How volunteers are making history in a parking lot — and you can, too

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Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to uab.edu/uabunited for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

rep hoover site entrance 1000px creditAppointment-holders line up 10 lanes wide at UAB's mammoth community COVID-19 vaccination site in Hoover.


Everyone remembers the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether you were following it all on TV and online, as I was, or fighting it on the front lines, like the nurses all around me. In the first light of a frigid Wednesday, several RNs taught a chilled but excited group of clinicians and volunteers the basics of our assigned tasks. Now we wait on the first cars to arrive for day two of UAB's drive-through community vaccination site at the Hoover Met. There are thousands of tiny details that make this mega-event work, which at the moment includes distributing handwarmers to Team Lane 7 — a pediatrician from St. Vincent’s who has volunteered as a vaccinator, and this writer, taking on the role of vaccinator assistant for the 8 a.m.-1 p.m. shift.


hoover met vaccinatorsVaccinators hold up the tiny vials that contain six precious doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine (center of photo). The vials are so small you can barely make them out in their gloved hands.


The handwarmers slip under our latex gloves and they do manage to take some of the chill off the dawn air. But my vaccinator has another idea to generate warmth. She gets out her iPhone and streams top hits of the 1960s and 1970s, sparking a dance party in the nearby lanes for "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Sweet Caroline.”


vaccinator and asstVaccinator (right) and vaccinator assistant (left) at work. While the vaccinator is administering each dose, the assistant fills out the patients' vaccine cards, which they will need to bring back when they return in a few weeks for the second dose.


Even if the sun won't make its presence felt for a few hours yet, we all have a brighter hope, anyway: the light at the end of the tunnel. That's how UAB's infectious diseases chief, Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., describes the COVID-19 vaccine sitting in a tiny vial in front of us. You can get six life-saving doses come out of a glass container barely an inch high — I get a charge every time I hand a new vial to the vaccinator. The clinic patients feel it, too. "I didn't think I would get an appointment," one woman says, a huge smile on her face. "This is such a blessing!"


rep hoover site injectionAlthough most patients choose to have their injection in the arm closest to the window, they can receive the vaccine in the other shoulder.


"Thank you so much for what you are doing," nearly everyone says. What I'm doing is filling out the official CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cards that all vaccine recipients get after the doctor gives them their shot. "I didn't feel a thing!" most respond, surprised. (There are some "that stung a bit,” too.) "Make sure you bring this when you come back for your second dose," I tell them, marking the time on their windshields and pointing the way down the lane to the observation area.


windshield markVaccinator assistants mark the time on patients' windshields. Clinical staff in the observation area will use that time stamp to determine when patients are cleared to leave the site.


Before they reach our slice of Lane 7, patients have interacted with volunteers who direct them into one of the 10 lanes in this supersite, and volunteers who check their IDs and medical information. After us come more volunteers directing traffic, volunteers monitoring timers and patients for any adverse reactions and volunteers showing them how to leave the complex. Around us are volunteers carrying precious vials of vaccine in cooler bags, volunteers collating and scanning paperwork and volunteers training new volunteers. We are all part of a mammoth logistics operation that feels well-oiled and effortless but actually is the product of countless hours of organization, meetings, simulations and sleepless nights.


As explained in an email Feb. 4, UAB faculty and staff in workgroups A and F may use some of their regular, scheduled work hours to assist at UAB-run vaccination sites on campus and in the community. See the email on the UAB United site for details on supervisor approval and signup process.


observation areaThe final step in the process is the 15-minute wait in the observation area post-injection.


Who can get the vaccine at these drive-through locations?

At this time, all UAB and Cooper Green Mercy Health Services patients age 65 and older can request their vaccination appointment online at uabmedicinevaccine.org. Non-UAB patients who are eligible for vaccination can visit the Jefferson County Vaccine Call Center online at jeffcoema.org and click on the green button to self-register; information will then be provided to UAB, and UAB personnel will make contact and schedule appointments at the most appropriate location.

Most of all, I think, all of us are thrilled to be part of history — an earth-shaking event that is the defining moment of this century so far. I didn't discover a vaccine or make one or treat a critical case in the ICU or comfort a devastated loved one. But I was part of that last mile of the great "shots in arms" effort that can turn the tide against COVID-19.

It’s now mid-morning and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” is playing. Which reminds me that there are plenty of slots left to sign up for a stint at Hoover, or Parker High School, now through the end of February. Many of the jobs, like mine, don't require any previous clinical experience — just a willingness to be part of the solution. Don't miss out.




How can I help?

Dozens of non-clinical and clinical volunteers are needed each day to staff UAB’s drive-through community vaccination sites. Jobs include:

  • Registration – non-clinical (verifying that the person presenting themselves for a vaccine matches the person on the schedule, obtaining consent from patient)
  • Vaccinator – clinical (administer vaccine, document administration on consent form)
  • Vaccinator assistant – non-clinical (review documentation, fill out vaccine card)
  • Post-vaccine monitor – clinical (monitor vaccinated patients for clinical deterioration, collect timer)
  • Runner – non-clinical (collect and clean times, help with setup/tear down)
  • Documenters/scanners - non-clinical (data input)

Sign up for timeslots available Monday-Friday, 8-1, 1-5 or all day.