Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
The COVID-19 vaccine was finally available at the beginning of 2021. Although all people were eligible for vaccination in many states by April, in Pittsburgh, some in the Chinese restaurant sector couldn’t get vaccinated. In certain instances, they hadn’t reached the required age for vaccination. Even if they met the age requirement, some didn’t know how to fill out the complicated online forms for vaccination registration due to a language barrier.
Realizing this, the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA Pittsburgh) contacted the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), the largest hospital in the city, about providing COVID-19 vaccination events. After the UPMC agreed, the OCA asked the Pittsburgh Chinese Restaurant Union to pass the message on to people in the restaurant sector and called for everyone to register on the website provided by the UPMC.
Seeing that many Chinese-speaking applicants were having difficulty due to language issues, Fei Chen, the director of the Restaurant Union, thought of asking Tzu Chi volunteers for help and support. Chen contacted Tzu Chi USA Mid-Atlantic Region’s Pittsburgh Service Center, requesting assistance with translation, filling out forms and guidance, and so on.
Love Is Everywhere
The vaccination event was to take place at a Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh site on Sunday, April 18. At 3: 00 PM on Saturday the day before, volunteers from the Tzu Chi Pittsburgh Service Center and representatives of the OCA Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Chinese Restaurant Union went to the Community Center to explore the location and rehearse the process for the next day’s event.
On April 18, while the vaccination event would start at 9: 00 AM, all the staff and volunteers gathered at the venue at 7: 30 in the morning for pre-event instructions and a process rehearsal. Nearly 1,000 people had signed up for this vaccination event. Thus, the need for staff was tremendous.
In light of that, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) set up 20 vaccination stations, with 75 nurses and staff assisting, all under the leadership of the UPMC’s Chief Nurse Marnie Kaminski and Vaccination Procedure Manager Richard Voorhees. In addition, 50 volunteers from the Tzu Chi Pittsburgh Service Center, the OCA Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh Chinese Restaurant Union were on site as support as well.
The vaccination event would proceed in several phases, led by volunteers and medical staff taking on different tasks. The procedure began with the maintenance of order in the queue outside, then temperature taking before residents entered the vaccination site. At the registration station, the main work consisted of verifying names, entering them into a computer database, and scheduling appointments for the second dose of the vaccine.
Once the residents received their vaccine at the medical stations, volunteers and staff would direct people to a rest area where they stayed 15 minutes after the injection. To execute the vaccination process seamlessly from start to finish, the UPMC person covering each area rehearsed with the volunteers in that sector. Finally, the leader of each participating organization once again gave the teams final reminders.
Follow-Up Vaccination Events at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
The following vaccination event planned for May would occur at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and proceed differently. For example, people who came would receive the vaccine as long as they registered their name and date of birth, although the staff wouldn’t ask to see their documents. In this way, people with identity paper issues could still get vaccinated with peace of mind.
Initially, the event was to take place on May 9, which happened to be Mother’s Day. Since the restaurant sector is bustling on that day, some people returning for their second dose of the vaccine wouldn’t be able to come. The UPMC agreed to change the date and postponed it to May 16. However, if someone still wanted to be vaccinated on May 9, the staff would help arrange other UPMC sites for injection. Moreover, they would have volunteers who can speak Chinese and Spanish at each site to help overcome language barriers for some.
Again, Tzu Chi volunteers were responsible for Chinese translation and guidance during the vaccination event. A few college student volunteers were there to help, too. Among them, Yueh Kao, studying for her Ph.D. in Education at the University of Pittsburgh, had volunteered before at the Tzu Chi Academy in the city at the invitation of volunteer Tung Chang Li. Kai Chih Chang, a Department of Chemical Engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University, also offered his help.
Moved by the wholehearted efforts of the volunteers at the first vaccination event where they had helped out, both signed up to join Tzu Chi volunteers from the Pittsburgh Service Center at the May 16 event, as well. Additionally, some who had received their second dose the week before, on May 9, came to the vaccination site on the 16th to help out alongside Tzu Chi volunteers.
The call to help others that we saw in this vaccination venture truly knows no boundaries of language or background. It equally blurs the distinctions of “me” versus “you” as more important. It is a glorious moment of unity in solidarity as one human family. How wonderful is that!
Through your love and support, you can also extend your care to others, near or far. Do explore Tzu Chi USA’s missions to learn more.