Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) from Alaska to Florida are pitching in to help the monumental effort of vaccinating millions against COVID-19. In White County, Georgia, 40 CERT Volunteers are busy scheduling vaccine appointments and handling registration at clinics administering the shot. Some members provide parking support and help enforce social distancing and masking requirements.
“Our local health department has limited staffing, and the CERT program provides the support needed so the health professionals can administer the vaccine to the patients. Our CERT has been a vital asset to the program and have prepared not only in their training but participation in exercises and drills concerning points of dispensing,” says David L. Murphy, Jr., director of public safety for White County government.
CERT Volunteers say both Health Department workers and seniors getting vaccines are happy for the help.
“In this time of uncertainty and confusion, being able to actually talk to someone means a lot. Everyone’s anxiety level is high, and phones are tied up so people cannot get through. So having someone reach out to them either to gather more information or to make them an appointment for the vaccine means so much,” says CERT Volunteer Donna Frady.
Volunteer Sandra Maughon notes that in this small county of 27,000 residents, “It has also been rewarding to see our friends and neighbors come in for their appointment. They are so excited. You would think they won the lottery!”
In Hoboken, NJ, CERT Volunteers help dispel some of the anxiety and confusion among seniors who want to make vaccine appointments. Signup for vaccines is online, but some older residents don’t have internet access to do it. A call center staffed partly by 40 CERT Volunteers expanded its hours to help these residents pre-register for the vaccines.
In addition, CERT members reach out with information and registration help in the lobbies of senior housing buildings. They also leave bilingual fliers at the doors of residents with information about signup help.
“It is rewarding for all of us to be helping the community approach the recovery phase of the pandemic by assisting our most vulnerable neighbors get protection from the virus,” says CERT Volunteer John Dalton. “A few extra minutes on the phone can provide some personal reassurance and comfort to many people. They are always grateful for the individual attention and appreciative of the information and our efforts.”
In Florida’s gulf-side Charlotte County, the CERT includes some retired healthcare providers who are working with vaccine administration.
Many of the 200 CERT Volunteers are helping with other tasks as well, such as traffic control. CERT Volunteers have called more than 500 people on a list of seniors and those with certain medical conditions to schedule their vaccinations.
In addition, CERT Volunteers help monitor for adverse reactions to the shots. “As they are assessing patients, they are also educating them on when to get their next vaccination and how to report any reactions once they return home,” says Ellen Pinder, the county’s emergency management coordinator.
Across the country in Washington state, more than 150 Volunteers with some of Clallam County’s six CERTs start work as early as 3 a.m. in temperatures below freezing. They help with communications, traffic support, and answering questions during drive-through vaccination clinics. By early February, the county led the state with the highest percentage of the population getting the vaccine. In addition, since June, CERT Volunteers have also helped distribute more than 50,000 boxes of food.
“Almost all of our community is elderly—the average age is over 55—and the sight of someone in tears about receiving a vaccine or a box of food for those out of work moves all of our CERTs,” says Blaine Zechenelly, an emergency medicine technician and disaster planner for the local fire district.
One of the vaccine recipients wrote a letter to the local newspaper thanking CERT Volunteers and others for their help. “We can now see the light [at the end] of [the] tunnel,” she wrote. In response, Zechenelly says, “All of our CERTs feel the same way, and it is what motivates them.“
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