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Hearts and arms full: Stepping up to help vaccinate

Wayne Brommelsiek, a 71-year-old Chaska resident, is a runner. But it’s not the classic marathon type.

Instead, the Minnesota Responds Medical Reserve Corps non-medical volunteer brings COVID-19 syringes from pharmacists to vaccinators during clinics.

The MRC recently asked if Brommelsiek would be willing to volunteer and get vaccinated to do so. ”I said, ‘Yes!’ to both of them rather rapidly,” he said with a laugh.

So far he’s volunteered a handful of days, sometimes running, other times comforting people nervous about getting the dose.

Brommelsiek is among a growing number of volunteers in Carver and Scott counties joining together, yet six feet apart, to help roll out the vaccine.

There are only eight workers on her staff qualified to vaccinate, said Lisa Brodsky, director of Scott County Public Health — but about 1,500 people were set to get vaccinated in just one clinic day in early March at Shakopee’s Canterbury Park.

“Certainly the need exceeds our current capacity,” Brodsky said, regarding staffing.

That’s where the can-doers step in.

Thanks to volunteers, Brodsky said the Shakopee clinic brought in help from extra vaccinators, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a doctor and nurse, public health professionals and students.

People can register through the county’s online system or contact public health officials directly. Within a day of reaching out to previous MRC volunteers, Brodsky said over 30 people threw their name in the hat. A community effort.

“The response was overwhelming,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘I’m available,’ (or) ‘I still have my license.’”

It’s a similar tale in Carver County.

Public Health Director Richard Scott said the county was using 70 MRC volunteers by early March, half with medical backgrounds.

Two retired nurses volunteered during the Waconia Event Center clinic day in early March, along with a handful of nonmedical people, to vaccinate up to 600 people. Ridgeview staff were also brought in to support.

After signing up online, volunteers go through an online hourlong training through the Minnesota Department of Health. That puts them on a list to be contacted when needed for in-person or traveling clinics.

HELPING HANDS

Deb Larsen is a non-medical volunteer with Carver County’s MRC. The just-retired 65-year-old and spends her donated time greeting people at the vaccine clinic.

“I think a lot of people coming in, they’re carrying (a lot) on their shoulders of all this, this whole year, and they just have a great deal of hope on what this vaccine might mean for them and moving forward,” Larsen said.

She’s been helping at the Medical Reserve for years, but this is her first volunteer gig since wrapping up work last November. Her typical MRC work is teaching people what to do in emergency health situations. It’s helped prepare her for the pandemic.

Larsen ushers people to the right spot when they arrive, easing any concerns and making connections. She even learns people’s names for the brief time they’ll be at the clinic.

To her, it’s all about the people.

She wants her older relatives to get vaccinated, but rollouts vary state by state. Still, helping others get the shot gives her some peace of mind.

“They all live in different places in the country but I feel like I have an opportunity to help them,” Larsen said. “This is a way that helps me to be closer to doing that for family or even for friends.”

‘SUCH A RELIEF’

Merrilee Brown was getting her own COVID shot and was asked if she could help in the near future through a Scott County volunteer program. She said yes.

In an observer role at Canterbury Park’s clinic, she looked after people after they’ve been vaccinated.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. Having a background in public health, you just want everyone that wants to be vaccinated to get vaccinated and you want the experience to be as helpful as possible,” she said.

That day at Canterbury Park, Brown said there were maybe half a dozen people who “felt a little shaky” after getting vaccines, which she said could be caused by nervousness or relief.

She’s been a nurse for almost 50 years with a DNP in nursing, so being around needles isn’t new to her. What is new? COVID — and how impactful protection from it can be.

“There are people that are crying after they’ve gotten their first vaccination. That is just such a relief for people,” Brown said.

All people, including the ones doling out the syringes.

“Three people actually had tears in their eyes. I’m gonna do it right now,” community paramedic Jeff Gustafson said. “You feel it. When you know you can do good for not just yourself.”

Gustafson has worked at a handful of vaccine clinics for free after getting a sign-off from a medical director, as well bringing doses to care facilities or homes. That day in Canterbury Park, he saw elation while giving vaccines directly to people.

“Oh, it’s your birthday tomorrow,” he’d say to people getting vaccinated, who replied: “Yeah, it’s my birthday gift. It’s my birthday present to myself.”

Even if vaccine day doesn’t coincide with a birthday, volunteers say it’s still worth celebrating since a COVID vaccine — or two — is quite the prize.


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