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Student nurses step up to give COVID-19 vaccinations

ST. CHARLES – Those receiving COVID-19 vaccines may be startled to realize they are being administered by local nursing students – who are solidifying their skills and participating in a huge volunteer program to get Kane County’s residents vaccinated.

Nursing students from Elgin Community College, Aurora University and Northern Illinois University are all giving COVID vaccines at Kane County’s vaccination clinics.

Among them are friends Bharti Varma and Julissa Garcia, both 23 and from Elgin, who will graduate in May from Elgin Community College.

“I was at the fairgrounds and I vaccinated about 45 to 50 people,” Varma said. “They were a mix of health care workers, people over 65, people with underlying conditions and I did run into a few teachers. There were a lot who where there for second doses.”

Each vial contains 10 to 11 doses of vaccine, she said.

Varma said she and the other nurses have to fill each dose separately for each person. It is the same dose for each person.

“They were really excited, especially people getting their second dose to be officially done and fully vaccinated,” Varma said. “And when I came across people for their first dose, in general, they were excited.”

Varma got her first dose of vaccine from another nursing student while at the fairgrounds, while Garcia said she received hers at a nursing home where she works as a certified nursing assistant.

“From my clinical experience, I do not do a lot of injections,” Garcia said. “So being able to participate in giving vaccines really helps the nurses gain skill and confidence. Actively injecting people with vaccine – it’s good practice. And it’s cool. I can say when I’m older, ‘I got to give the COVID vaccine.’”

She and Varma both worked the 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. shift and a whole new set of volunteer nurses and student nurses would show up for the 1:30 to 7 p.m. shift.

Like Varma, Garcia had a variety of patients to inject, including people who were nervous about the shot.

“I even had a few who were more afraid of the students giving the shots,” Garcia said. “I had to talk them through it, telling them, ‘This isn’t my first time.’”

Depending on student nurses

Participating in the covid vaccinations is a big part of nurses’ education, said Aja Ferguson, nursing skills lab and simulation instructor at Elgin Community College.

“I think community work is key and it’s really important especially being a community college to get our students involved in community work,” Ferguson said.

Aurora University spokeswoman Deb Maue stated in an email that the school has 29 student nurses already participating in vaccination clinics and another dozen scheduled to assist next week.

“This is the first time our students have participated in mass vaccine clinics, although they have in the past helped out at flu vaccine clinics at some of our partner facilities,” Maue’s email stated.

Jan Strom, Dean of Aurora University’s School of Nursing said in an email that their students have partnered with the Kane County Health Department for student clinical rotations.

“When the Health Department became aware that the COVID vaccines would be available, they asked us to assist with vaccinations,” Strom’s email stated.

Susan Caplan, chair of the NIU School of Nursing, stated in an email that having its students participate is “a historical opportunity to be a part of a groundbreaking effort (to) protect the health of millions of people in the United States and worldwide.”

“To improve population health, and prevent severe illness from COVID 19, we must support our mass vaccination campaigns,” Caplan’s email stated.

NIU spokeswoman Jane Donahue stated in an email that their nursing students have helped with immunizations for decades, assisting with flu vaccinations every year.

“In addition to the Kane County vaccinations, they have been working closely with the DeKalb County Health Department providing COVID vaccinations at the NIU Convocation Center,” Donahue’s email stated. “They have also acted as ‘clinical teams’ and given COVID vaccinations to area group homes, shelters and independent senior living facilities this year.”

‘I was so happy for them’

Azeezat Balogun, 22, a second-year nursing student at NIU, said giving vaccines at the fairgrounds was her first experience giving shots to a lot of people.

“Initially, I was a bit nervous, but as time went by, I was able to get my confidence,” Balogun said. “And the people I gave my shots to, they all said they didn’t feel anything and that was making me get better. … They were grateful to get the shot and … I was so happy for them.”

Balogun is originally from Nigeria, but currently lives in Chicago while attending school.

Balogun said she worked in different sections of the vaccine clinic: where temperatures are taken, asking if anyone in their household has tested positive for the virus in the last three weeks, finding out if patients have a completed form and if not, they go to another table to get consent and a list medications and allergies and then getting the shot.

But they don’t go home right after that, Balogun said.

“My initial spot was in the observation center, staying with patients 15 to 30 minutes to make sure there were no reactions. If there was no reaction, they were free go to home.” Balogun said.

“For all the time I was there, nobody showed any reaction. And up until when we all left, I did not hear from any colleagues that any patients complained of any reaction or emergency,” Balogun said. “And that was really good because a lot of people were scared about the vaccine. … I gave fewer shots, but I enjoyed the fact that I was in different places so I could connect with different types of people,””

Some patients were afraid that the shot itself would hurt. And for one woman patient who was really scared about it, Balogun gave her something to numb her arm to reduce the pain.

Balogun said she will likely get vaccinated at the end of this week … or next week. Her hesitation is that –she, too, is anxious about the pain.

“It’s so funny – I give injections, but I’m nervous about getting a shot, – the needles,” Balogun said, laughing.

‘A big step toward the end’

Waukegan resident Victora Amponsah, 21, a nursing student living on campus at Aurora University, said a lot of the people she vaccinated in the last two weeks “were excited to finally be able to get the shot.”

“They briefed us and said they were expecting more than a thousand people,” Amponsah said. “Then to see everybody come through and see the excitement.”

Some were worried about side effects, how they would react to it. Some worried that it would not work, how long it would be effective, and how it would come up against new strains of the coronavirus, she said.

“I thought it was pretty big to be able to be involved in something on as large a scale as this,” Amponsah said. “Looking at the bigger picture of the impact of the pandemic – this is a big step toward the end. I could definitely feel it for all the people who thanked me for being there. i was like, ‘Wow, this means a lot’ for the bigger picture.”

Participating in the clinics also improved her shot-giving skills, she said.

“It was great practice to draw up the vaccine and locate the injection site,” Amponsah said. “It was putting in practice what we learned in skills lab that in itself was great experience.”

As for her own vaccination, Amponsah said she will be getting at Edward Hospital in Naperville, her clinical site, where she goes on Mondays.

“It’s really nice for them to offer it to the nursing students,” Amponsah said.

Surges gets his shot – from a student

Kane County Board member Clifford Surges, R-Gilberts, reported at a recent county meeting that he had been vaccinated Jan. 22 – by a student nurse.

“I found it extremely refreshing that one of the nurses there reminded me that we are pooling nursing students from across the county to actually have physical hands-on experience doing this,” Surges had said then to Michael Isaacson, assistant director of community health at the Kane County Health Department.

“So you’ve really maximized the experience in so many ways. I wasn’t aware of that at all and I think kudos to whoever’s idea that was,” Surges said.

In addition to nursing students, the county has had school nurses from various districts, paramedics and EMS from fire departments assisting also, Isaacson said.

“There’s great teamwork going on … at the clinics we’ve been running,” Isaacson said.

“We have a massive, robust Medical Reserve Corps. And not only have they been fantastic in helping us here with the vaccines, but since February, March, through the entire process, we’ve had volunteers helping to answer the phones,” Isaacson said.

“Being at these clinics and seeing these people all come together is really uplifting to see – the community coming together for something positive like this,” Isaacson said.

Claudia Reginato, coordinator for the Medical Reserve Corps, said the corps was a national volunteer organization that is organized locally with 110 volunteers from the area.

“We get volunteers who are residents and we engage them in helping with public health,” Reginato said. “They have been helping us for several years now and for the last year, they have been actively supporting us to address COVID-19 … with mass vaccination and other types of responses. Some have helped us with contact tracing, with the call center, front desk support.”

The Health Department’s goal is to vaccinate approximately 12,000 educators this week, with new and second dose clinics to be held weekly, Kane County Board member Jarett Sanchez, D-Carpentersville said.

Additional clinics for those age 65 and older will be scheduled the week of Feb. 22 to supplement existing opportunities for seniors to get vaccinated, Sanchez said.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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