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Wanted: Volunteers to help vaccinate Nevadans against COVID-19

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011, pediatric registered nurse Rachel DiNola strapped on a cooler filled with tetanus vaccine and trekked through ankle-deep dirty floodwater to give hundreds of shots on the street to disaster victims in upstate New York.

DiNola, 40, continues to volunteer, now with Nevada’s Battle Born Medical Corps, formed under a directive by Gov. Steve Sisolak to provide voluntary medical service during the COVID-19 pandemic. When a vaccine to ward off the coronavirus becomes available, she plans to be among the volunteers administering it.

The state is seeking an unspecified number of medical volunteers to supplement a network of 4,000 vaccine providers who have stated their intent to provide COVID-19 immunizations at hospitals, doctor’s offices, pharmacies and elsewhere across Nevada.

More than 600 nurses have volunteered to be part of the medical corps, with more than 100 specifically designating interest in the vaccination effort, said volunteer manager Rachel Marchetti. These volunteers will be deployed at vaccination events hosted by communities across the state.

“We imagine that there will be vaccination events hosted in each community,” said Shannon Bennett, immunization program manager for the state’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health. “And those community organizers, such as their local emergency managers or the local health district, will have a pool of resources of volunteers that they can tap into to be able to expand their vaccination efforts to be sure their community is appropriately served throughout the response.”

Operation Warp Speed

It’s uncertain when a vaccine might become available. Two pharmaceutical companies with vaccines in late-stage human trials have said they expect in November to request Food and Drug Administration authorization of emergency use for their vaccines.

Operation Warp Speed, a Trump administration program to hasten vaccine development and delivery, has a goal of delivering 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccine, with the first doses available by January. Congress has directed almost $10 billion to the effort, funding development by private companies as well as public research.

Vaccine doses initially are expected to be very limited. Under Nevada’s vaccination plan, the vaccine would first be made available to those administering vaccines as well as to frontline medical providers most at risk to be exposed to COVID-19.

In mid-October, the Nevada State Board of Nursing put out a call seeking volunteers to assist with the vaccination effort. Many of those who responded are working in nursing in Nevada or in border communities in neighboring states, Marchetti said.

It has been an incentive for some potential volunteers that they would be among the first receive a vaccine, she said, though most are primarily motivated by generosity.

“They want to help their neighbors and family members and their communities. And they know that it makes a huge difference,” she said.

Heeding the call

One volunteer told her that “it gives them a feeling they could actually help at this point … because so much of what has happened with the pandemic, everybody’s kind of left just feeling helpless in many situations.”

Earlier in the pandemic, DiNola, who works for a Las Vegas nonprofit, volunteered at the Cashman Center providing nursing care to homeless people with COVID-19.

“I think that when you interact with people during times of crisis, you really get to see true human spirit,” she said. “People really come together during disasters in crisis, and I think it’s an amazing thing.”

She heeds the call to volunteer because she has “a skill that’s needed,” DiNola said. “And I know that a lot of people are suffering, and I just feel like I have the skill to do it.”

For the state immunization effort, “We were focusing primarily on those who have already been trained and credentialed so that they can give a vaccine,” Marchetti said. “The effort is especially seeking those with medical skills but we are not turning away other volunteers.”

Those interested in joining the Battle Born Medical Corps can visit the SERV-NV registry at www.servnv.org,

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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