College volunteers participate in massive UF vaccination campaign

On Monday, April 5, the day Florida began allowing people age 16 and over to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the University of Florida — in an extension of an ongoing collaboration with county health officials — began rolling out a massive vaccination campaign with the goal of vaccinating 20,000 students a week for six weeks at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Champion’s Club, across the street from the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Rachel outside clinic

Rachel DiSesa stands outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 10.

Faculty, staff and students from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine joined their counterparts from other UF Health colleges in the effort, volunteering their time in shifts and performing a variety of different roles.

“I have volunteered in the check-in area, as well as distributed the CDC vaccination record card,” said Rachel DiSesa, clinical programs coordinator for the UF Veterinary Hospitals. “Greeters direct individuals to one of several stations and we have observers to watch people after their shot. There is a role for everyone, regardless of their background.”

When the college’s interim dean, Dr. Dana Zimmel, sent a collegewide email about the opportunities for participation in the campaign, DiSesa recognized a great opportunity to remind people “that veterinary medicine is about more than just puppies and kittens.”

“We are dynamic, problem-solving health care professionals whose responsibility extends beyond animal health,” she said.

DiSesa has seen firsthand the hospital’s clinicians and veterinary nurses providing 24/7 care for pets as essential workers throughout the pandemic. As a non-clinical worker, she felt helpless when she saw how tirelessly others were providing patient care, and felt that volunteering in the vaccine clinic was a small way she could contribute to “getting us back to normal” as well as a way to honor colleagues who work in clinical care.

As an Asian woman, DiSesa felt an even stronger obligation to participate in the effort.

Volunteers from UF Health

Rachel DiSesa, second from right, with volunteers from the colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy and Nursing at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Gainesville on April 13.

“This pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color,” she said. “In some cases, rates of hospitalization and death are nearly twice as high as in white communities. More representation is needed in clinical trials as well as vaccine administration.”

DiSesa also volunteered at the UF Health vaccination site at Mount Carmel Baptist Church.

“By bringing the vaccine into communities of color and increasing access to health care, I hope we can inspire trust and confidence in this population,” she said.

When she first arrived at the stadium’s Champion’s Club, which serves as the hub for appointments, DiSesa said she and other volunteers received a debriefing, where they were told about all of the different roles they could play.

“We weren’t given clear instruction about what we should do in the event someone needed translation assistance, or was Deaf or hard-of-hearing,” she said. “I offered the use of one of our translator units because I feel it is critically important to make sure that we proactively address possible barriers to access in order to create an inclusive environment.”

DiSesa took over the hospital’s Cyracom unit, which is lightweight and portable, only needing a Wi-Fi connection to connect to a certified medical translator.

“I don’t think it has been used, but its availability supports our efforts to achieve health care equity,” she said.

Buckley and Allen at the Stadium

Dr. Martha Mallicote, Dr. Gareth Buckley, Linda Allen and Amanda Ziegler volunteered at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 11.

Dr. Gareth Buckley, a clinical associate professor of emergency and critical care at UFCVM and the hospital’s chief medical officer, was among the volunteer participants. He worked a shift on April 11, along with the hospital’s quality officer Linda Allen, inventory control and equipment manager Amanda Ziegler, Dr. Martha Mallicote and others.

“It was really rewarding to see so many people excited about getting the vaccine and what it means for them as a step toward returning to normal,” Buckley said. “There were UF students who were excited about being able to safely see their parents and grandparents again; a retired lady who was making her first trip outside of her house in nearly a  year who just wanted to be able to go to the grocery store again and see her friends, and there was one gentleman who has lived his whole life in Gainesville who was there for the vaccine, but was most excited about making his first-ever trip to the Swamp.”

Buckley said it was great to see volunteers from all over the university.

“I met students, staff and faculty from the colleges of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing and Dentistry,” he said. “This is UF stepping up and making a difference in a big way, and it was great to be a part of it.”

Allen’s role was to serve as an observer after participants received their vaccine.

“I was on the Champion terrace outside overlooking the stadium,” she said. “The day was gorgeous and it was fun talking with people after their vaccine. I have always loved doing community service, but this seemed even bigger. I felt like I was contributing to our nation helping us get beyond the craziness of COVID-19.”

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