Towards the end of December, just one block away from NJIT, Essex County College, one of five Essex County COVID-19 vaccination sites, was vaccinating approximately 150 health care workers and first responders per day. Now, in February, the site is vaccinating more than 600 residents and workers daily. This upward trend is promising and may make this site an extremely efficient center for the COVID-19 relief effort. It also means more volunteers have been necessary to keep the pace up.
When Essex County College began its rollout of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, many citizens were eager to get involved and help in any way they could. The Chair of Essex County College’s Department of Nursing, Dr. Gale Gage, asked nursing students at ECC if they would be interested in volunteering and many signed up immediately. A similar request for volunteers was sent to students at NJIT with many students eager to get involved.
After last semester ended, a call for volunteers was sent to NJIT students in the Honors College, pre-health students and those majoring in biomedical engineering or biology. Many students were eager to get started. Snehal Patel, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, said when she received the email with the opportunity to volunteer, she thought, “finally, I can do something useful with my time. This is something good to do to help out the community, especially in Newark where the population is more vulnerable.” Approximately 30 eligible juniors and seniors signed up.
Like seemingly everything involved with the vaccine rollout, there was an element of trial and error. The NJIT volunteers were informed at the end of December that their contact information had been sent to the Essex County Health Department. Students were told to be on the lookout for information on start times. Andrew Christ, Senior Vice President of Real Estate Development and Capital Operations at NJIT, kept would-be volunteers informed as he received new correspondence from the county. In mid-January, Christ informed NJIT’s student volunteers that the number of non-medical volunteers was more that the ECC vaccination site could manage at the current time. This did not mean that interested students would not be able to volunteer, but it did mean the delay would continue.
Finally, in late January, students were given the go-ahead to begin volunteering. For some students, the delay between the initial email and the actual start date of Jan. 25 was frustrating. Because the actual start date was after the Spring 2021 semester had already begun, some students no longer had the free time they initially had during the winter break. In addition, the full day commitment was not possible for those with classes every day of the week. The Essex County Health Department reserved three spots per day for NJIT student volunteers. Spots were available from Monday to Friday from the end of January to April of 2021. Volunteering shifts would run be from 8:45 AM to 5:00 PM.
Although this unexpected change discouraging for some, the zeal for many student volunteers has not wavered. After her first day of volunteering, Nikitha Pappachen, a junior majoring in biology, was excited to be involved and said that she was glad that the NJIT volunteers gave other people, like administrators, peace of mind, knowing that the staff didn’t have to worry about getting everything done themselves.
Many of these vaccination sites will still be operating well into the year and perhaps into next. Manoucheka Gilles, the site supervisor at Essex County College, emphasized the importance of volunteers, and how grateful the team was for having an excess of volunteers eager to help. “Volunteers help us so much. Most staff are volunteers and we would not be as successful as we are without them.”