Firefighters stand distanced at Clinica de Salud’s parking lot during the waiting period after receiving Covid-19 vaccinations at the King City site, administered by Hartnell nursing students on Jan. 9. (Sean Roney/Staff)

SALINAS VALLEY — Nursing students from Hartnell Community College administered hundreds of Covid-19 vaccine doses to area firefighters last Saturday.

The vaccinations took place at Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas locations in Salinas, Castroville, Greenfield and King City.

Students involved were part of the college’s registered nursing and vocational nursing programs who volunteered to administer the vaccine as part of Monterey County Health Department’s plan to immunize the community in a priority-tier basis. The county is currently working on the first phases of that tiered system, serving medical workers and first responders.

The opportunity to serve the community through volunteering has been popular at Hartnell since 30 students administered vaccines at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System before Christmas.

“I was telling my faculty, I feel like I’m giving away lottery tickets,” said Dr. Sonja Sheppard, associate director of Nursing and Allied Health. “They are so excited, and there are only so many slots.

A total of 18 students participated in the Jan. 9 program at the four locations. 

Students administered the vaccine to area firefighters and other first responders under the supervision of Hartnell nursing instructors at each site. Students who were not yet trained in administering of injections were able to assist with preparing vaccine recipients.

“This is not a class assignment; this is not a requirement for graduation,” Sheppard said. “This is out of their own time, taking half of a Saturday to serve the community, and they’re just falling over each other trying to get the opportunity.”

Hartnell student Jerica Dexter mentioned the frustrations with the limitations of not being able to assist more local clinics and medical facilities.

“We feel so helpless that we can’t be there in the hospital helping and relieving some of the nurses,” Dexter said. “So it’s a great opportunity for us to pitch in, in the only way we really can right now.”

Instructor Debbie Thorpe, who supervised the students at the Salinas location, added, “It’s been so rewarding to have students from our community doing this work. They’re people with kids, taking care of family. They’re an awesome group of students.”

Sheppard said the challenges of learning to administer a shot were turned into a learning experience. The vaccination operation allowed students to use their training to assist the community while gaining clinical experience with both injections and involvement in a public health emergency. 

“We all think giving a shot is no big deal, but you still need to practice, and doing it on a fake arm only goes so far,” Sheppard said. “When you’re doing it on real people, and a volume of real people, everyone is different. Muscle mass is different; how people respond to it is different.”

Erica Padilla-Chavez, president of the Hartnell Community College District Governing Board, said the nursing students’ community service reflects the importance of the college’s health care programs, which include respiratory care and emergency medical technician.

“Both through their training and after they graduate and join the workforce, our students really are on the front lines of public health and safety, not only during this pandemic, but at all times,” Padilla-Chavez said.

Hartnell Director of Communications Scott Faust contributed to this article.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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