Written by Peter Simmons, Audrey Cheng, Jennifer Chien
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Diana Chang, Adriana DiBenedetto
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has now claimed the lives of over 3 million people globally and sickened more than 141 million. Medical research and development units, however, put forth dedicated efforts to launch several vaccines by the end of 2020, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the administration of the new vaccines. Due to the limited number of vaccines allocated by states, counties, and cities, local governments set up tiers for vaccination. After the first priority medical personnel had been vaccinated in January, vaccination for the second tier, which includes our elderly community members, teachers, and emergency rescue personnel across the United States, launched in February. Several facilities were open to the public around Las Vegas, Nevada, as vaccine administering locations, and long lines promptly formed at these locations.
Aging Asian Americans Face Challenges Getting Vaccinated
Phan Nguyen, a dentist and member of Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA), is in charge of Tzu Chi’s dental outreach events. He had observed overcrowding at Cashman Field’s vaccination station, and knew that because many older Asian Americans do not speak English as their primary language and did not know how to use a computer to register for the vaccine online, they could only go early and stay in line to try their luck. However, since they did not make an appointment and could not answer the health questionnaires, they often waited in line for several hours only to be turned away by the organizing unit at the end of the day. That’s when Dr. Nguyen shared his heartfelt observations on Facebook.
Rebecca Edgeworth often participates as the resident physician during community medical outreach events. She works at Touro University in Henderson, and recently led the medical students to administer vaccines within the communities. When she saw what Dr. Nguyen had shared on Facebook, she too was moved by the situation, and quickly began to formulate a solution. The light bulb had soon gone off, and she asked, “Why not hold a vaccination event for the seniors in the community at Tzu Chi?”
Since Tzu Chi has volunteers from multiple Asian countries, the idea offered a promising way to help Asian American seniors in the community complete the required forms for the vaccine. Dr. Edgeworth and Dr. Nguyen communicated with TsuiLin Venezuela, head of the TIMA’s medical team in Las Vegas. After a collaborative meeting, both parties decided that a vaccination event would be held in the community to vaccinate Asian American seniors. However, the most significant challenge would be to first obtain the COVID-19 vaccines.
The Allocation of 300 Doses
Dr. Nguyen is a Vietnamese refugee and one of the medical volunteers actively supporting the availability of vaccinations for the Asian American population. He sent petitions for vaccines to Nevada Governor Stephen Sisolak, Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee, Deputy District Attorney Clark County, the Southern Nevada Health Department, and the Nevada National Guard, as well as other units and officials who assisted in vaccination.
Finally, good news arrived on January 25th. Dr. Edgeworth had collaborated with the head of the Nevada emergency response team to deliver 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine specifically for older Asian American community members in Las Vegas.
Tzu Chi volunteers and the two doctors promptly held an online meeting on January 26th and reached a preliminary consensus. After the meeting, Christine Fisk, head of Tzu Chi’s Las Vegas Service Center, mobilized volunteers to develop a plan for the vaccination event. A preparatory meeting was held on January 30th to finalize the community vaccination event for February 7th. The volunteers were also responsible for the implementation details concerning sanitation, procurement of leased materials, and online appointment and registration. In less than a week, the volunteers from TIMA would prepare for more than 300 residents to enter the Service Center for vaccinations.
Detailed Preparations In Advance
TsuiLin Venezuela, who’s also a registered nurse, was determined to ensure the event would proceed as smoothly as possible. She first participated in a large-scale community vaccination event from February 2nd to the 4th which provided 1,500 doses during the three-day event. She gained a great deal of experience observing and learning on-site, including more efficient paperwork completion procedures and other related operations.
A Tzu Chi volunteer named Dingren Wang assisted in designing the vaccination webpage so the general public can register in a convenient and straightforward manner. When everyone viewed the accessibility of the registration webpage, they put their thumbs up and agreed, “Simple and concise, clear at first glance!” On the first day, it registered 190 residents.
The volunteers made copies of 300 application and consent forms in advance, and recruited volunteers who are proficient in multiple Asian languages to serve as translators for the residents who came to get vaccinated. In order to make their guests feel at ease, Tzu Chi volunteers also prepared food, water, and wheelchairs.
Two days before the event on February 5th, 2021, volunteers came to the service center to set up the venue. Tzu Chi rented 70 folding chairs to be carefully cleaned, disinfected, and spaced out. Volunteers Chengkai Ku and Hsiuhui Chen guided young volunteers as they spread heavy-duty construction paper on the floor, and other volunteers covered the tables and chairs with a plastic covering so they could be disinfected after each use. Although the preparation time was tight and pressure was on for their first vaccination event, the volunteers were full of positive energy.
On the evening of February 6th, Dr. Nguyen and Dr. Edgeworth delivered the vaccines and medical supplies needed to Tzu Chi’s Las Vegas Service Center. At 6 AM on the following day, volunteers arrived at the center to prepare in advance, and patiently awaited the medical team’s arrival at 7 AM. Dr. Edgeworth conducted a briefing first to remind the medical students of the protocols. Then, the song, “Prayers,” played at 7:40 AM to kick off the opening ceremony. After Dr. Edgeworth, Dr. Nguyen, and Christine Fisk gave their speeches, residents entered the venue in an orderly fashion at 8 AM sharp to begin filling out the forms, and soon received their vaccination with the assistance of volunteers.
A line formed at Tzu Chi’s Las Vegas Service Center at 8 AM, and police officers and volunteers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department were helpfully present to assist with security and traffic control.
Volunteers Christine Fisk and TsuiLin Venezuela, who were in charge of coordinating the event, were always on-site to lead the crowd, prepare chairs, and make sure that everyone maintained social distancing procedures. When they encountered insufficient supplies, such as paper towels, forms, or pens at the registration, they immediately restocked them.
After being vaccinated, each resident was required to rest in a waiting area for 15 minutes to confirm that there were no allergic reactions before leaving. Dr. Nguyen and Dr. Dean Tsai observed the patients in the waiting area and carefully noted if the residents felt unwell after being vaccinated.
In one instance, an older Vietnamese guest with preexisting conditions suddenly felt dizzy after receiving the vaccine, and volunteers quickly helped her onto one of the foldable beds. Dr. Nguyen immediately came to take her blood pressure. TsuiLin Venezuela additionally brought her some orange juice and biscuits to snack on. Although her daughter explained that, “She had taken her medication in the morning and a simple breakfast and might have felt dizzy from the anxiety,” the doctors still asked her to rest on-site. After observing her for another 30 minutes and confirming she was all right, the pair was okayed to go home.
Efforts to Increase the Number of Available Vaccines
Almost everyone who accompanied their parents to get the vaccine asked whether they could get the vaccine as well. Tzu Chi volunteers explained that due to government regulations and the need to maintain the order of vaccination, if there are still extra vaccines left at the end of the event they could get vaccinated. However, there was no guarantee. Even when they were not certain if they could get the vaccine, there were still many residents who were reluctant to leave.
Within seven and a half hours, volunteers had vaccinated 323 residents. Nearly 500 residents registered to be vaccinated that day, and between 170 and 190 people were placed on the waiting list. After 300 residents were vaccinated, it was already afternoon. There were 23 doses of vaccine left. TsuiLin Venezuela administered the remaining vaccines according to age on the waiting list, calling on those who were 69 and 68 years of age first. In the end, only a few residents waiting on-site could not receive a shot, and volunteers delivered lunch boxes to express their apologies.
The Community Affirms the Efforts of Volunteers
The volunteers were deeply grateful to the two restaurants — “Chef Kenny’s” and “Daikon Vegan Sushi” — for providing free vegetarian lunches that day. This selfless support truly warmed the hearts of all the volunteers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread and severely impacted the nation in 2020, Tzu Chi USA had no choice but to temporarily close all service centers to protect the wellbeing of both the community and volunteers. However, when restrictions began to ease and volunteers heard that the vaccination required volunteers, Tzu Chi volunteers readily signed up to participate in the event.
“The volunteers responded enthusiastically and happily,” said Christine Fisk, voice full of emotion. “Until February 6th, there were still volunteers calling in to sign up for the event. In order to control the number of volunteers and maintain social distancing, Tzu Chi limits the amount of volunteers per event. Therefore, volunteers were divided into morning and afternoon shifts so that more volunteers had the opportunity to participate and contribute their efforts.”
Tzu Chi’s vaccination event was successfully completed in an orderly manner, and volunteers were eager to service the residents again to administer the second dose for those who received their first during this event. In this difficult time, the positive energy and compassion delivered a welcome warmth that soothed the heartache brought forth by COVID-19, enabling residents to feel that hope is indeed still on the horizon.