On Monday, April 19, the entire adult population of Massachusetts became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. This means people who live, work or study in Massachusetts—including all Wellesley students—are now able to book vaccination appointments. This progress across the state and the country would not be possible without the efforts of thousands of vaccine workers, many of whom are volunteers.
Some Wellesley students have joined this effort, such as Lizette Mier ’22, who works as a volunteer in Arizona registering and translating for eligible patients. Mier was inspired to join the vaccination effort after accompanying her mother, an essential worker, to her vaccine appointment at 3 a.m. She discovered the person registering patients was a volunteer.
“It was crazy to me to think that people were actually volunteering overnight shifts to make this happen,” Mier said.
That was when she decided to sign up to work in stadiums and pop-ups across Arizona. Mier has since volunteered three times, registering eligible patients and assisting with walk-ins. She found that working at these vaccination sites was fulfilling because it allowed her to help her community.
“People really need translators, they need interpreters,” Mier, who speaks Spanish, said. “I like to be able to help my community and pay it forward.”
Mier emphasized the need for bilingual volunteers, especially in her area with a high Spanish-speaking population. Without healthcare workers who speak Spanish, many Mexican Americans in her area cannot get access to the vaccine.
Donla Gyalnub ’23 is a student employee at Oregon Health and Science University. This winter, she brought her passion for public health to the vaccination effort and now volunteers as a scheduler and check-in person at vaccination sites. Gyalnub, a pre-med student, said she joined the effort because of her “moral duty to help marginalized communities hit hard by the pandemic.
“The pandemic has shocked the lives of every person across the world,” Gyalnub said. “It’s an honor, a privilege, to be helping these people.”
Both Mier and Gyalnub acknowledged the impressive scale and speed of the vaccine distribution. Gyalnub applauded Oregon for its prioritization of inoculation for its incarcerated population. Mier praised Arizona for its creative solutions to vaccine problems.
“Arizona gets really hot, which causes the vaccines to expire faster,” Mier said. “So, some vaccination sites are switching everything to nighttime, when it’s cooler. Lots of sites are already working through the night to vaccinate the population faster, but we still have to turn a lot of people away.”
Despite the disappointment of having to deny people the vaccine, this means there is a high demand for it (many people want to be vaccinated). The more people who agree to get their shot, the closer the community gets to herd immunity. Herd immunity keeps the virus from spreading and protects vulnerable members of the population. Still, both Gyalnub and Mier had critiques of the distribution.
“We know that, with infectious disease, it always affects the marginalized the most,” Gyalnub said. “We need to make a better effort for our folks of color.”
She also explained that some efforts in her community to vaccinate Indigenous populations were at a start, but were not widespread enough.
“I’ve already seen a lot of privilege at play,” Mier said, describing ineligible candidates who make appointments and the gatekeepers who allow them through.
Meanwhile, eligible older adults or people in marginalized communities cannot reach vaccination sites or make appointments. Gyalnub also criticized states that have not begun vaccinating their prison population, such as Colorado and Texas. According to Gylanyb, around 250,000 frontline workers still had not received their first dose in the state of Oregon. Additionally, many vulnerable people eligible earlier in the year still have not been vaccinated.
For the Wellesley students who have become newly eligible, the volunteers had some advice. First, thank you for waiting for your turn.
“In the case of someone who is young and able, and doesn’t necessarily urgently need the vaccine, waiting your turn is a noble thing,” Gyalnub said.
Once you have received your doses, Mier added, students should continue following public health protocol, such as social distancing, wearing a mask and frequent hand washing.
“It doesn’t matter that you have been vaccinated until the rest of the world has,” Mier said. “The vaccine is not a cure-all.”
The two agreed on the most important advice for those eligible to receive the vaccine: “Get it!”