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State Calling For Volunteers, With And Without Medical Training, To Help With Vaccination Effort

Tulsa Health Department
Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart (right) prior to receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a distribution site on Friday, Jan. 15.

The Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps put out a call for volunteers Wednesday, seeking nurses, paramedics and untrained community volunteers to help with the statewide COVID-19 vaccination effort.

"We really do need a lot of people, and we need them all across the state," said Lezlie Carter, OKMRC state coordinator. "In the larger metro areas and cities, but also in the more rural counties where we're getting the vaccine out to every Oklahoman. We need Oklahomans to join the OKMRC in all corners of the state to help us out with these efforts."

Carter said the corps, which is overseen by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, is seeking help in at least 52 of Oklahoma's 77 counties, and not just from health care providers who can administer the vaccine.

"We are using non-medical volunteers for everything from form review to traffic control," Carter said. "We even have some volunteers that have been assigned to assisting the elderly as they come into the PODS [point-of-dispensing sites] and maybe need a little more one-on-one attention. Non-medical volunteers are essential for keeping things going."

Carter said the corps has been active for the entire pandemic, meaning many of their 6,700 volunteers, both medical and non-medical, could use assistance under the added weight of a mass vaccination initiative on top of nursing and other health care-related volunteer shifts.

"We're going to have a need for volunteers for a while, so we want to bring in some new volunteers that will be able to step in and help us out," she said.

Carter said there is a chance that volunteers may be able to receive the vaccine themselves at the end of their shifts.

"At the end of the volunteer shifts, if there are any available extra vaccines that have already been opened up and ready to distribute, then of course the volunteers are eligible to get them because, at that point, they're a frontline responder," Carter said. 

"However, that's not something that we can guarantee," she said. "It just has to do with the vaccine availability at each POD every day, and all of the different PODS are handling that a little differently. So it's hard to give a blanket answer, but they might be able to get the vaccine."

As of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oklahoma had administered 251,684 doses of vaccine, ranking 8th best nationally for number of doses administered per 100,000 residents.

Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart said at a press briefing held virtually Thursday that the OKMRC has been vital to the local pandemic response in Tulsa County.

"To say we're grateful really would be an understatement. We truly could not operate at the level we are without these gracious volunteers," Dart said, encouraging residents to sign up for the corps.

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, live or work in Oklahoma and pass a background check. More information is available at the OKMRC website.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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