By William Jennings / NM News Port
The city of Albuquerque is vaccinating against COVID-19 and looking for volunteers from all different backgrounds to help.
Volunteers may be responsible for directing people, filling out forms, making copies, and translating information if they are bilingual.
They will not be responsible for giving people the shot.
Nick Zubel, senior planner at Albuquerque’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), and Hugh Hulse, who is helping oversee vaccine distribution within the OEM’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), said the main priority is keeping the flow of vaccinations efficient and volunteers make that possible.
“Per site you have about 25-30 people, not including medical professionals, running things and… we can have sites where the city needs additional staff and support to meet that 25 count,” Zubel said. “That’s essentially why we’ve been reaching out to our community.”
“We want this to remain a good experience for people,” Hulse added. “We want this to be something where we get people through as quickly and efficiently as possible and that requires a lot of people helping.”
The planners say there are about 150 people on a waitlist to volunteer.
While the EOC has been operating up to 5 sites, they have site agreements for dozens of other vaccination sites should the city receive enough doses to justify opening them.
The total number of vaccination sites, including those run by hospitals and pharmacies, is constantly fluctuating based on how many doses are available — making it difficult to say how many sites there are at any given moment.
For the sites that are open, Hulse emphasized the city’s dedication to keeping volunteers safe from COVID even if they aren’t vaccinated themselves yet.
“There is PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) involved like masks and gloves but of course social distancing is one of the most important ones,” Hulse said. “We are very very careful of the layout of the site to ensure that people coming to get vaccinated and our staff and volunteers are appropriately distanced so that we keep a safe environment.”
The city is also constantly sanitizing high touch surfaces and has everyone who comes to a vaccination site fill out a health screening form before they enter.
Jack Moser, who heard about the volunteer opportunity from the University of New Mexico (UNM), is one of many people who have agreed to volunteer.
“I have a role to play just like everyone else,” Moser said. “Especially with the community being hurt so much I think everyone should be figuring out how to do their part.”
Moser is also one of about 270,000 people in the state who have received at least one round of vaccinations. Moser said this was a big reason he wanted to get involved.
“I’ve been wanting to volunteer specifically with the COVID vaccination effort but I wanted to wait until I got my vaccine first,” Moser said. “I’m in a unique position to volunteer safely and I feel the need to do what I can.”
The city is also looking for volunteers with a medical background although they are directing them to the New Mexico Medical Reserve Corps (NMMRC) who is handling their volunteer assignments.
CL Kieffer Nail, a member of the NMMRC, is one such person who wants to put her EMT license to good use.
“I have a medical license that I don’t use in my day to day job and I feel the need to be using it now,” Nail said. “It’s really important for those of us who have medical licenses and aren’t actually using them to step up.”
Nail admitted that while it can be intimidating to volunteer during a deadly pandemic, it is worth it if it means she can help ease the burden on medical professionals.
“A lot of the individuals out there who have medical licenses who use it for their full time job like nurses, paramedics, and people who are on the frontline probably don’t have the time to help with these types of things,” Nail said.
Nail also said the state’s commitment to keeping volunteers safe played a big role in her deciding to help out in person.
“I was like ‘yes if you give me the PPE that I need I will help out,’” Nail said. “I just needed the extra sense of protection.”
Meanwhile, the state continues to vaccinate its population at a rate that is only surpassed by two other states.
While some sites like UNM’s sporting arena The Pit have temporarily paused vaccinations to ensure people who have been vaccinated once can get the second dose, the state expects to be able to ramp up the vaccination effort with larger shipments expected to arrive soon.
As for how the vaccination effort is going right now, Hulse said he is encouraged by the outpouring of support he has seen from the community.
“There are a lot of people in town who have not been able to do much for a very long time and they really just want to help their community to get through this,” Hulse said. “We finally have an opportunity for them to be able to reach out and help make that difference so that’s been overwhelming and very positive.”
“I’m just quite inspired by the community. They step up in times of need,” Zubel added. “It’s really inspirational.”
Volunteers can sign up at OneAlbuquerque where they can choose the site and shift they want to work.
William Jennings is a reporter for New Mexico News Port. He can be reached on Twitter @WillJenningsUNM.