By Tina Bellon and Melissa Fares
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. states, facing a delay in administering coronavirus vaccines, are asking medical and nursing students, and even firefighters, to help deliver the vaccines and free struggling health workers against a pandemic in overcrowded hospitals.
At least seven state health departments are looking for volunteers for their vaccination sites, some in partnership with local universities or nursing schools to offer incentives such as tuition discounts and hands-on training. Others are teaching rescuers how to administer injections.
The national launch of COVID-19 vaccines is the best hope for ending a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 320,000 Americans and paralyzed the US economy.
This month, US regulators authorized the first two COVID-19 vaccines, one from pharmaceuticals Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE and the other from Moderna Inc.
On Wednesday, nearly 10 million doses were delivered across the country, but only about 1 million administered due to a shortage of staff in hospitals and special requirements to prepare the injections. The slow pace of the vaccination campaign threatens the federal government’s goal of inoculating nearly 20 million people by the end of the year.
Although inoculation is currently focused on frontline health professionals, the vaccination campaign is expected to expand to tens of millions of key industry workers starting in January or February.
From New York to Tennessee, states expect medical and nursing students to release a medical team focused on serving the record number of new COVID-19 patients.
“Being able to equip vaccination clinics with volunteers from our backup workforce means that staff at vaccination sites can continue to perform their normal duties, which is crucial as our hospitalization rate has increased,” said a spokeswoman. voice from Indiana University School of Medicine.
‘STRIKE BACK AGAINST COVID’
When the first vaccines arrived, Indiana health officials looked to the state university for their long-range campuses. More than 630 medical and nursing students at Indiana University signed up as volunteers and receive 90 minutes of online and hands-on training.
Fourth-year medical student Nicholas Clough began administering COVID-19 vaccines to frontline healthcare professionals last Wednesday. He lost several family members during the pandemic.
“It finally looked like it was a real and tangible blow to COVID,” said Clough, 26.
The University of Wisconsin is offering a $ 500 monthly tuition credit to students with medical credentials who work in understaffed hospitals during winter holidays, including administering vaccines.
The university is also talking to government officials to turn universities into vaccine distribution centers, said a spokesman.
In California, fire department paramedics were trained to administer the vaccine, initially to co-workers.
“They have already received online training and will have another one-hour live training session,” said Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, who expected his first shipment of the Modern COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.
Michigan has established a volunteer registry (here http://www.mivolunteerregistry.org), allowing staff and hospitals to recruit help for upcoming vaccine clinics.
“We encourage all medical and nursing students to apply now, so that they are ready when their assistance is needed!” said a health department spokeswoman.
Other states are not actively recruiting nursing students. A Georgia health department spokeswoman said the state could do this later, as the vaccine became more widely available to the public.
Depending on state licensing laws, medical and nursing students are allowed to administer vaccines, often under the supervision of a fully licensed professional.
Facing a shortage of vaccinators, the Association of Immunization Managers, a nonprofit organization that represents state and local health officials, recommends relaxing regulation or adjusting licensing requirements.
At least two states, Massachusetts and New York, have changed their laws in recent weeks to expand the number of people eligible to apply vaccines.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on December 13 allowed students of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, podiatry and obstetrics to administer flu and COVID-19 vaccines under supervision.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon and Melissa Fares in New York; Additional reporting by Deena Beasley in Los Angeles; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Aurora Ellis)