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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Winona Thatcher is given the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Clinica Medicos on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Q: I am a medical student. Can I volunteer to give COVID-19 vaccine shots?

A: Vaccinating eligible residents in Hamilton County continues to be a priority of the health department. To date, 113,418 shots have been administered (20% of the population has received a first dose and 10% has completed the vaccine series). This has been an epic endeavor performed in collaboration with many of our community partners. There is still, however, a lot of work to do, and help is very much welcomed.

As the allocation of vaccines is expected to increase in the coming weeks, the health department is preparing to open a fourth vaccine site (at the Alstom property on Riverfront Parkway). Staffing these sites with vaccinators, as well as other personnel required, will be essential to be able to vaccinate all other eligible residents.

Fortunately, the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP) recently was amended to include more health-care workers to the list of people who are able to vaccinate. This list includes physicians, pharmacists, paramedics, advanced or intermediate emergency medical technicians, physician assistants, respiratory therapists, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, midwifes and veterinarians with an active or inactive license (expired or lapsed within the last five years). Students in many of these fields who have had appropriate training in vaccine administration also are included.

This amendment has added a significant amount of people to the vaccinator pool. So whether you are a medical student, retired physician or anyone who falls into any of these categories, we encourage you to sign up by going to the Medical Reserve Corps website (https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/cedep-emergency-preparedness/volunteer-mobilizer.html). Once screened, you will be contacted to schedule a convenient time.

Historically, medical students have been integral in combating epidemics. In the polio epidemic of 1952, for example, several hundred medical and dental students provided around-the-clock manual ventilation to people experiencing respiratory paralysis, a heroic community effort that saved lives. The COVID-19 epidemic is providing similar opportunities for health-care workers to come together to help in mass vaccination efforts.

Fernando Urrego, M.D., is the interim health officer at the Hamilton County Health Department and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

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Contributed Photo / Dr. Fernando Urrego
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