Vermont Health Dept. Gets Critical Help at Vaccine Clinics From Nontraditional Staff

State workers from a variety of departments have been helping staff the vaccination sites

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The Vermont Department of Health says the smooth operations at COVID-19 vaccine clinics around the state are largely thanks to people from a wide range of backgrounds who have stepped up to help their communities in new ways.

“We couldn’t do these clinics without the full staff,” said Joan Marie Misek, a district director at the department, referring to workers from other state departments and from other employers who have been critical to operations at vaccine sites.

Vermont is allowing many of its state workers to instead spend their scheduled hours at the clinics doing intake, traffic control or other non-medical duties.

Bridget Phillips, who works on clean drinking water initiatives for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, was checking patients out of a vaccine site Monday at Montpelier High School.

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“It’s just been a joy to be a part of,” Phillips told NECN. “It’s been a very rewarding opportunity.”

Todd Mackay, who typically works in enrollment for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, said his employer was also supporting him helping out at the clinic. He added that it’s been nice to interact with people in-person again, after working his regular job remotely for so long.

“It’s a bit of a ‘Groundhog Day’ at home,” Mackay said, referring to the movie in which the main character lives the same day over and over again. “Seeing the same thing, just me and the dog every day. [Working at the clinic] was certainly an excuse to get out of the house as well, but it definitely feels good to be a part of the effort.”

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, her chief of staff and Barre City firefighters and EMTs were also among those working at Monday’s clinic in the high school.

One of their patients was a familiar face to Vermonters: Gov. Phil Scott. He received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at Monday’s clinic, where he said his optimism for a recovery from the pandemic is growing now that the pace of vaccination uptake is increasing nationally.

Scott noted he has full confidence in all three of the vaccines, which the nation’s health experts determined to be safe and effective in preventing death and cases of COVID-19 severe enough to require hospitalization.

“We just have a little bit longer to go,” the governor told reporters outside the clinic after receiving his shot. “If we can get through the next four weeks, we’ll start seeing we’re going to get back to normal by the Fourth of July — looking forward to it. So when it’s your turn, when your time comes, make sure you sign up.”

More information on registering for the COVID-19 vaccine in Vermont is available on this Health Department website.

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Also Monday, Vermonters aged 40 and up became eligible to sign up for their vaccinations. On April 12, the 30+ age band opens, and everyone 16 and older will be able to register for a shot on April 19.

Scott described the process of coming to the clinic as extremely smooth and said the shot was so quick, he didn’t even feel the jab from the needle.

Misek, who was managing the Montpelier vaccine site Monday for the Vermont Department of Health, called it inspiring to see the enthusiasm the nontraditional clinic personnel have. 

Additionally, at vaccine sites elsewhere, the Vermont National Guard, pharmacy employees, hospital staff and others have all been rowing in the same direction to protect people.

“Not everyone can be a doctor or a nurse or a public health official, but I think people want to do their part,” Misek said of the enthusiasm to help at vaccine clinics.

Jay Furr of Richmond got his COVID-19 vaccine Monday.

“At some point, we’ll be able to go to live theater and eat in restaurants and all this,” Furr said of life after the pandemic. “It’s exciting!”

Furr expressed gratitude to the state workers who were helping run Monday’s clinic, and said he sees their efforts as another example of how beating the pandemic will take input from everyone.

Dr. Gerry Davis is a retired physician volunteering two days a week at the clinics through the Vermont Medical Reserve Corps. 

“I felt I wanted to do what little I could to help with this pandemic,” Davis said of his volunteer work.

Davis said it’s payment enough to see the joy on vaccine recipients’ faces and hear their stories about being excited to hug loved ones again.

“Short of obstetrics and the delivery room, this is the happiest medical event you’re going to find,” he said of his work administering vaccines. “It’s a very positive, sort of cheerful medical thing to do.”

Late Monday, the Vermont Department of Health announced more than 40% of people in the state age 16 and up have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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