UT-Austin students reflect on volunteering at COVID-19 vaccination sites

Fiza Kuzhiyil

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 9 issue of The Daily Texan.

As the sun beat down on the line outside of Gregory Gym, student volunteers helped guide people to their COVID-19 vaccination appointments.

On the way out, an elderly man stopped to thank volunteer Sara Tran for helping him navigate the process.

“I smiled under my mask … Just knowing that all the volunteers there were contributing to these people’s experiences was super cool,” biology freshman Tran said.

Stephanie Morgan, co-leader of the COVID-19 vaccine operation at UT, said around 2,500 people get vaccinated every day at Gregory Gym. To streamline the process, UT enlisted students to administer vaccines and help patients navigate the vaccination site. Many volunteers are also offered the opportunity to receive a vaccine. 

Tran said one of her teaching assistants told her about the opportunity to volunteer and receive the vaccine in March before Texas opened up vaccination to all adults. After her entire family had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Tran said she wanted to get vaccinated, too, so she could feel comfortable seeing them without wearing a mask. 

“Even just getting vaccinated, I feel like you’re playing a part in history,” Tran said.

After February’s Winter Storm Uri canceled a week’s worth of appointments, the vaccine lines took two to three hours to get through. Morgan said volunteers who don’t administer the vaccine now try to ensure the whole process only takes 30-45 minutes from standing in line, getting vaccinated and waiting 15 minutes in observation.

“Many people have shared with us (their) relatively positive experience and not a long wait,” Morgan said. “We try to maintain that slow, regular movement all the way through, so there’s never a true long stop at any stage of the vaccination process.”

Public health sophomore Sarang Kim said she volunteered on March 25. At the end of her shift, she received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. When she got her vaccine card, Kim said it felt surreal.

“I didn’t know when my turn would come to get this vaccine, so having this card in my hand … I feel like it was worth it to stand outside for five hours,” Kim said.

Due to the pandemic and her virtual classes, Kim said she hadn’t met many new people this past year, so she loved working with fellow volunteers and nurses during her shift. She said she got a glimpse into the various facets of public health.

“It motivated me and showed me that there are more (ways) to help kids than being a doctor or a nurse,” Kim said. “COVID showed me that.”

Na Jung started volunteering at the UT Family Wellness Center in January, where she got her Moderna vaccine. As a nursing senior, she said she needs to fulfill volunteer hours, but she often picks up more shifts than required.

“I love volunteering,” Jung said. “I just want to go back, despite not having to do it for classes, because I think it’s awesome that people are getting vaccinated, and I want to be a part of that.”

Jung helps administer vaccines at Gregory Gym, where she said she tries to make patients feel comfortable while getting their shot. She said she’s drawn to volunteering because she loves seeing how excited people are to get their vaccines.

“It’s definitely an honor to be a part of it,” Jung said. “It’s still so shocking that it’s been ongoing, and (it’s) sometimes so surreal for me, but it’s definitely something I will remember forever.”