Responding to a request during a spring vaccine elective to describe her experience as a vaccinator, the Class of 2022’s Alexa Cecil wrote, “I think it’s interesting how one day can shift one’s perspective on an entire year. A year filled with sadness, fear, desperation and despair; with confusion, fatigue, loneliness and frustration – and then one day happens, and everything feels different.”
In her own words:
Apprehension and anxiety filled my head as I arrived for my first shift as a vaccinator at the Richmond International Raceway. I was very nervous until I started administering my first few vaccines.
Stepping into this event after months of hearing about COVID-19 vaccination efforts on the news was a surreal moment. Endless talk of “botched vaccination efforts in the U.S.” seemed to ring the loudest. Although I did not believe everything I heard, those messages still stuck.
The RIR event that first day really changed everything for me.
First, I noticed the volunteers who were working to make sure the event went smoothly and would reach as many people as possible. I was overwhelmed with their kindness, generosity and sincerity. Much more goes on behind the scenes than anyone could ever glean from a five-minute news story.
Next, I looked to the individuals in charge, those who arrived earlier than every other volunteer and had spent hours on dozens of lists outlining the flow, safety plan, vaccine storage and administration for the thousands in attendance. Many of them did not take a break until well into the afternoon.
But the individuals getting vaccinated probably shifted my perspective the most. The pure joy that radiated from those receiving their vaccines was one of the more wonderful experiences I’ve had as a medical student: grandparents with plans to see their newborn grandchildren, adult children who finally would see their parents. Stories of depression and anxiety through the pandemic had transformed into hope and thoughts of the future.
I vaccinated husbands and wives who couldn’t wait to have a sandwich at their favorite lunch spot again. I met cancer survivors, three-time war veterans and one man who was over 100 years old. Multiple individuals teared up because they were so happy, comparing the event to “the true light at the end of a long and dark tunnel.”
About 6,000 people received vaccines at RIR that day.
I believe this experience, which I will cherish always, will prove to be a much more formative piece of my time in medical school than I fully realize. These efforts pull together the parts of medicine that must work together to protect the health of the individual and the community.
Before starting medical school, I earned my M.P.H. with concentrations in epidemiology and biostatistics. I’ve spent hours studying and researching past pandemics, the public health response and how these responses succeeded or how they could have better been delivered. This past year – and this elective – helped me use that knowledge to research, analyze, understand and help execute efforts to protect people from and prevent further disease during this global pandemic.
I learned how the individual fits into the whole. If the patient’s perceptions of what is happening do not align with public health efforts, it will be hard to make an impact. The elective taught me about vaccination hesitancy and the historic apprehensions of marginalized groups. That’s informed the way I will deliver information to future patients.
I am so appreciative that clinical students were allowed to be trained to give vaccines and to help at vaccination events. I know this will have an impact on my career as a physician.