Students volunteer to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to health care workers

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UNE COM student Kaye Dandrea administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a health care worker at Maine Medical Center

When the pandemic struck, Kevin Huang (D.O., ’24) looked for ways to help out. He recently found a very uplifting way when he became part of the first group of UNE students to volunteer at Maine Medical Center vaccinating health care workers.

“The opportunity to volunteer, to administer COVID vaccines, caught my eye,” he stated. “I definitely got goosebumps when I walked into that room to help for the first time. It is still an overwhelming feeling, knowing that I am doing my part.”

The students are part of a massive effort to vaccinate thousands of frontline health care workers against COVID-19.

“Knowing this is a marathon, I’m thinking we could have more than 300 students involved in the work,” Jennifer Gunderman, M.P.H., director of the Maine Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and assistant clinical professor of public health, told the Portland Press Herald. “We are looking at deploying UNE people throughout the state.”

The University has an active registry of students, from nursing, pharmacy, physician assistant, and the College of Osteopathic Medicine, who are willing and trained to administer vaccinations.

Some of those students had to go through rigorous preparations in order to qualify, while others had already received the training through their course of studies.

“I had administered flu shots before, so I was already familiar with the vaccination process,” Huang commented. “So, this was a skillset that I already had, and I am thankful I am able to utilize it effectively by helping these health care workers.”

Huang administered a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine to doctors, nurses, and staff during a recent shift on a Saturday afternoon.

“Everyone was so grateful,” he said. “I had the opportunity to have some great conversations with a lot of the health care workers who were coming in.”

Karen Pardue, Ph.D., M.S., RN, CNE, ANEF, dean of the Westbrook College of Health Professions, says not only does the experience help students hone their skills, but it also helps workers at the hospital focus their time on patients.

“They have had a surge of patients and the staff are very busy just caring for patients,” she said. “I think it speaks volumes that we are the institution that they immediately thought of when they needed support and assistance. It is the same way that we reach out to them to help train our students. They are our primary clinical site for that.”

Dora Anne Mills, M.D., chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth, says her organization is grateful for the assistance.

"With thousands of employees to vaccinate, we knew we faced a steep uphill climb in administering vaccines as we care for record numbers of sick patients,” she explained. “When we approached UNE, the University never hesitated to step in to help. Because of UNE's faculty and students, we are on track to getting all of our frontline health care workers vaccinated against this deadly virus."

Pardue says she is encouraged by seeing so many students step forward to volunteer for this effort.

“In times of crisis, people say, ‘How can I help? What can I do?’ and that is part and parcel of deciding that you want to go into health care,” she commented.

Huang says he is willing to volunteer as much as he can. He has another shift scheduled at the hospital.

“I feel honored and humbled that, even as a medical student, I am able to help contribute in a small way,” he said. “It is very, very fulfilling.”

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UNE COM student Emily Cathey readies a vaccine
Kevin Huang
First year UNE COM student Kevin Huang
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Students from several UNE programs are volunteering