Volunteering at a COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic: Lessons Learned

Recently, I took the opportunity to volunteer at a local drive-through COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Over the course of six hours, the crew and I helped vaccinate over 1,000 people in the area. It was a true team effort and, even though the constant rain was gloomy and dampening, the feeling amongst co-volunteers and the community was anything but.

During my volunteer time, I was able to get up close and personal with those receiving their first vaccines. My job was simple: check IDs, fill out vaccination cards and wave cars through the tented roadway. I partnered with a number of skilled and knowledgeable doctors and nurses from all over the area administering vaccines throughout the day. As I moved from tent to tent, I noticed that each team was offering slightly different instructions to the passing cars. Some would go into great detail about what to take for arm pain, how to move your arm around, and the different potential side effects of the specific vaccine given. Others would simply deliver the shot, ask if there were questions and move on to the next car. I tried to keep my message consistent, offering information about the vaccination card and explaining how to sign up for their next vaccine.

As my shift ended and my hands began to thaw, I ran through the day in my head. What did the volunteer site do well and what could be improved upon? One issue that resonated was how each person had a different experience depending on which tent they pulled up to. I allowed my thoughts to linger as I readied myself to receive my own first vaccine the next day.

Walking into my appointment, I felt like a pro. I knew exactly what to expect: have your ID ready, keep moving your arm around and wait for an email to sign up for your next appointment. What I did not expect was to be given slightly different information than what I had heard the day before. Instead of moving my arm, I was told to rub my arm. Instead of an email to schedule another shot, I was told to visit a website to sign up for my next appointment. Was I giving out incorrect information?

I raced home to do some research. What I found was an even larger selection of information. You should move your arm, ice your arm, massage your arm. It will be sore for a day, a few days, a week. Every piece of information seemed to be different. After spiraling into a Google frenzy of medical images and articles I realized that, while there may not be just one answer, a single vaccination site should decide what general instructions should be issued to keep a unified message. I immediately offered feedback to my vaccination site and suggested providing a short, scripted checklist of instructions in each tent for doctors and nurses.

Communication in any environment is important. But clearly communicating the correct information in a health care environment is crucial. While the differences in instructions I encountered were not life threatening, they did remind me of the importance of clear and unified messaging. Presenting the same message across all channels can prevent confusion and strengthen the cause. For more stories on the importance of messaging, check out the following posts:

Communications Tips for Reaching a Diverse Audience

Communicating About Health: 7 Tips to Up Your Game