With 45 years of experience as a registered nurse, Barbara Hayden recalled watching news coverage of the national COVID-19 vaccination effort with a singular thought in mind: she needed to be part of the solution.
As an occupational health nurse overseeing the Wellness Center located at the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) headquarters in Washington, DC, Hayden administered an average of 1200 flu shots every year for the past 15 years. “This is the pandemic of my lifetime,” she said. “I retire from federal service in August, and as I approach the finale, I had to respond to the call for help.”
In support of the Biden Administration’s pledge to administer 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine within the first 100 days, DOI has mobilized emergency response personnel to facilitate operations at vaccination sites coordinated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In March, Hayden traveled to Milwaukee, WI as part of a short-term deployment to support FEMA’s mass vaccination clinic located in the Wisconsin Center, Milwaukee’s convention facility.
After training and orientation, Hayden staffed one of the 32 booths available at the site. “It was a fascinating setup,” Hayden said. “I’m an extrovert, and I love nursing. It was exciting to give the vaccine because everyone, even if they were afraid of shots or anxious about the process, was happy to receive it.”
She explained that the vaccines were prepared onsite by medical personnel who cautiously mixed only the number of doses that were anticipated to be used within a given time period. Once a patient arrived at the clinic, the process is fairly streamlined – receptionists verified patient information; nurses provided education about vaccine requirements, including information about side effects, before giving the vaccine; and in the post-shot waiting area, medical technicians observe for any reactions.
For Hayden, this was a landmark opportunity to serve her country. “You will meet really great people from all over the nation working together. You may also get assigned to a location you have never been or to a function you did not expect,” Hayden said. “Three days into my assignment, I was moved to a data entry role, which is the unsung hero of the entire process. Every patient generates paperwork, and it is critical for that paperwork to be documented properly. No matter your role, you are helping your country.”
Since April 6, the Wisconsin Center has been designated as a federal pilot community vaccination center with the capacity to administer 3000 vaccinations a day. FEMA continues to request both clinical and non-clinical support for various Federal, State, and Tribal vaccination centers and vaccination distribution centers. Volunteer opportunities for eligible fire personnel interested in supporting the national vaccination effort are available through the firefighting emergency support function (ESF-4) under FEMA’s National Response Framework, and interested participants are encouraged to speak with their supervisor.