A mask shields Hannah Rich’s broad smile but doesn’t veil her expressive eyes while relaying a personally striking encounter with a senior citizen at a local COVID-19 vaccination site.
BJU senior student nurses are taking part in the most ambitious vaccination effort in U.S. history, facilitating on-site registration and inoculating individuals age 65 and older in phase 1A in South Carolina’s patchwork rollout of the vaccine campaign.
“One lady I was giving a shot to was in tears because it had taken her so long to get that second shot, and she said she had not seen her grandkids that had been born in the past year and she was so excited to see them,” Rich said. “She said a couple of times, ‘I am looking forward to seeing my family.’ That was so exciting for me.”
One shot at a time the students are contributing to end the novel coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted lives and livelihoods — and insidiously claimed lives — over the past 12 months.
Thanks for the Invitation
To mitigate potential backlogs at vaccination sites across the state, the list of trained medical professionals approved to administer the COVID-19 vaccine was expanded to include qualified nursing students through a joint order by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environment Control (DHEC) and the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR).
BJU student nurses have also helped with sanitizing surfaces between shots and observed patients for signs of an allergic reaction.
“It all started in the fall when we participated in the drive-thru flu shot clinic at Prisma Health in Travelers Rest,” said Dr. Valarie Petersen, nursing faculty. “It was the third year that I had taken community health students to participate and was told to ‘stay tuned’ because we might be giving COVID-19 injections in the spring.
“It’s just the feeling that you’re participating in something so big. This is community health at its finest.”
Seeing a Sense of Excitement
The gutted interior of a former big-box retail store serves as Greenville’s large-scale COVID-19 vaccine clinic, while the mechanics are basically the same as a flu clinic with multiple stations for registration, screening and the shot of liquid gold. Patients are briefly observed for signs of an allergic reaction and then sent on their way — many with a sigh of relief.
“We could see the hope and excitement on everyone’s faces when they came through,” student nurse Rebekah Stevens said. “It surprised me and the nurses I was working with because some of them had been waiting in line for three hours outside and they finally got to our table and we assumed they would be more impatient to get out of there.
“But everybody was just so kind and polite and just so excited that they were looking forward to everything they could do after getting their immunization. That was exciting to provide that hope for people.”
Making a Measurable Difference
The experience this semester has dovetailed with the students’ capstone practicum class, which is intended to assist them to bridge the theory-practice gap. It also complements their clinical rounds at area hospitals and corresponds to real-life circumstances they’ll soon encounter in the workforce.
“It was interesting to put into practice what we learned in lecture. Sometimes you get some of that in a clinical setting, but most times you’re shadowing an RN. To be able to be part of the action and vaccinate these people and see how the process goes for recording was really cool,” student nurse Elisabeth Blank said.
“A lot of people had questions after the vaccine or were concerned about the aftereffects. So it was nice to be a calming presence, answer their questions, help them understand what the vaccine was and give them more information.”
Added Stevens: “I am so excited to be able to see this measurable difference that we’re able to make because oftentimes in nursing we can chart a patient’s outcome but on a large scale you don’t really get the full-on numbers you’re looking for. This is just a way to contribute and see what kind of difference we’ve made. That’s really encouraging as student nurses getting ready to go out into the real world.”
The Four W’s Still Apply
South Carolina residents 65 and older were added to phase 1A on Feb. 8 and should make an appointment for their initial vaccination. The two-shot process requires individuals to return for the booster about three weeks later. The second dose enables the immune system to provide long-lasting protection.
Following the four W’s — wear a face covering, watch distance, wash your hands and wipe surfaces — is recommended even after receiving both rounds of the vaccine. According to Dr. Michael Kacka, DHEC’s chief medical officer for COVID-19, the vaccine protects your body if you encounter the virus, “but it’s still uncertain to what extent those vaccinated may still be able to spread the virus if they encounter it.”
Every student enthusiastically volunteered to participate in the historic campaign, working toward the common goal of U.S. herd immunity and potentially saving a life.
“It’s quite a monumental thing that you can tell your grandchildren that I gave the first COVID-19 injections,” Petersen said.