'What We Were Meant To Do' Medical Reserve Corps Preps for Vaccinations

Nov 25, 2020

Richmond City Health District worker conducts a COVID-19 test at a site set up by the Virginia National Guard Tuesday May 5, 2020.
Credit Steve Helber / AP

More than 12,000 volunteers have stepped up to help battle the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials say more will be needed before it’s all over.

Since March the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps has seen a 50% increase in its rolls. Just over half of those volunteers have a medical background. Officials say they’ve developed a core group of about 3,000 who are actively supporting local health departments with community testing, outbreak investigation and contact tracing.

“It is humbling to have community members come alongside VDH and our public health staff to assist us in responding to this pandemic,” said Jennifer Freeland, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Department of Health, in an interview earlier this week. “It’s amazing how many people stepped up to help.”

But now the Medical Reserve Corps is turning its attention to the next big mission: vaccinations.

“This is what the Medical Reserve Corps was created to do” Freeland said. “We were created to do mass vaccinations, that’s the reason why this program exists.”

The MRC was created in the wake of the anthrax scares following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Letters traced with the bioweapon killed five people and more than a dozen others got sick. The state wanted the ability to recruit volunteers in case there was a larger attack, requiring massive amounts of antibiotics to be distributed.

While that luckily never happened, the VMRC did have to spring into action in 2009 during the Swine Flu epidemic. At the time the group mobilized almost 2,000 volunteers to support more than 700 vaccination events statewide.

But Freeland says helping distribute a COVID-19 vaccine will be the organization's “largest mission ever.”

She estimates the MRC will have to organize more than 3,500 volunteers to help over several months. The Department of Health has already been holding free drive-thru flu vaccine events. Freeland calls them a test run for future COVID-19 vaccination events.

Given that looming effort the group is still asking for additional volunteers. Many who signed up back in March, like healthcare workers who were furloughed at the time, are no longer available.

“We are really looking to add volunteers to our teams that will be willing to be dedicated to support our mass vaccination effort,” Freeland said. “It’s going to still be a long road for us.”

You can learn more or sign up at www.vamrc.org.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.