How to Volunteer at a COVID-19 Vaccination Site

volunteering at vaccination site

Joshua Seong / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • Volunteering is a great way to help your local community in its COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
  • Medical professionals can volunteer as vaccinators who administer vaccine shots directly or become part of the monitoring team.
  • Those who do not have medical training can do a number of logistical and administrative tasks, including traffic control and language translating services.

As the country's vaccination rollout continues to pick up speed, many individuals have been eager to volunteer at vaccine distribution sites to aid in making herd immunity a reality. Volunteers' assistance can help speed up the vaccination efforts, especially as vaccine supply increases over the coming months.

Roberta Fischer, a California resident, has been consistently volunteering in her community since last year. “Late December, I made an application to the Medical Reserve Corps," Fischer tells Verywell. "I needed something to do, and I had been in the healthcare field for 20 plus years working administration jobs." She typically volunteers at a local vaccination clinic once a week. However, due to an influx of volunteers, she can’t always secure a shift and will sometimes drive to another vaccination site 15 miles away.

Jacqueline Fox, JD, LLM, professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, also signed up to become a volunteer and immediately helped out when she could. “I did it because I know how important it is to get vaccines to people, and that volunteer care providers who have the training to vaccinate shouldn’t be using their time organizing the location,” Fox tells Verywell.

Anyone can apply to become a volunteer, regardless of their medical background or vaccination status. Vaccination sites need people for more than just administering the shot itself, so there are plenty of available roles for people from all backgrounds.

What This Means For You

Even if you don’t have prior medical training, you can still volunteer at a COVID-19 vaccination site and make a difference in your community. If you're interested in volunteering, head to your state or county government's website to learn about opportunities to get involved with COVID-19 efforts.

Signing up to Become a Volunteer

Various states facilitate volunteer sign-ups through official state government websites, such as Utah, Arizona, or California, but you can also volunteer with your county’s local distribution efforts by checking your county's website.

Health and educational institutions, like any local university systems, also handle volunteer applications for their vaccination sites.

Although the sign-up process is often confusing and rapidly changing, it will become increasingly simple and transparent as the vaccine rollout continues, Fox says. Some counties and institutions are already so overwhelmed with volunteers that they have temporarily closed applications as they take the time to vet each applicant.

No matter where you sign-up, the process is generally similar:

  1. Registration: You complete a profile at the sign-up portal to confirm that you are eligible to volunteer, identify your deployment preferences, and upload the required proof of identification and medical licenses.
  2. Training: Some vaccine distribution sites need you to complete training courses before you are accepted, while others do the training and briefing during deployment. 
  3. Background check: After submitting your application, they check for criminal records and verify any medical certification that you presented. This can take up to two weeks.
  4. Deployment: Once you are verified as a volunteer, you can view the number of available shifts and sign up for them.

“While as public health professionals, we can suggest population-, community-, and individual-level changes to facilitate health, we are rarely able to be ‘on the front lines’ in a way that is helping [the community] directly," Morgan Philbin, PhD, MHS, assistant professor at the Columbia University School of Public Health in New York, tells Verywell. "As such, when I had the opportunity to volunteer I immediately agreed to it.”

Roles at Vaccination Sites

Volunteering can take on many different roles, depending on what you’re comfortable with. “Volunteers are often categorized as medical or non-medical, depending on their qualifications," Philbin says. "Those with a medical background like physicians, nurses, or paramedics can be assigned as a vaccinator or part of the monitoring team for the 15-minute wait post-vaccine."

Those without medical backgrounds are often assigned to logistical and administrative tasks, such as:

  • Registration and line management
  • Greeting and doing temperature checks
  • Maintaining safety and sanitation in the vaccination site
  • Interpreting for Spanish, Mandarin, Filipino, Korean, and other foreign languages
  • Maintaining traffic flow or parking lot wayfare
  • Monitoring the signing in and out of other volunteers as well as their designations
  • Assisting staff in the vaccination, like pushing the vaccine cart or driving the golf cart

Fischer, a non-medical volunteer, has experienced handing out COVID-19 vaccine screening sheets and vaccine information, confirming the patients' age and time of appointment, and asking for proof of employment for healthcare workers.

“It is very basic clerical [tasks] with no decision-making involved, so you can easily be briefed the morning that you report in,” Fischer says. Later on, she also became part of the "road crew" where she helped people who were unable to get out of their cars by taking their paperwork and walking it through the different stations. The vaccinator will then come to their car and give them the vaccine.

When she volunteered, Fox had a few minutes of traffic control training to know how to monitor the drivers and track how long they waited, as well as deliver supplies to the vaccinators. “Once people get vaccinated at that site, they have to drive slowly along a supervised route until they have waited a full fifteen minutes," she says. "I had to make sure the cars stayed close enough together so the roads could hold all of them. It is quite an operation, with more than a mile of cars slowly moving along."

Meanwhile, Philbin volunteered as an interpreter at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center once a week with an eight-hour shift. She primarily helped translate for monolingual Spanish speakers from nearby local communities, as well as for a few Mandarin speakers. She ensures that the individual getting vaccinated understands the vaccine procedure and has all of their questions answered.

According to her, the vaccination site is in a historically marginalized and underserved neighborhood, which makes her more passionate about volunteering and ensuring that populations who have been excluded from medical care, information about COVID-19, and the ability to sign up for vaccines, are included.

“Given the historic and continued maltreatment of many of these communities in medical settings, it is so important that we are there to support them and make sure they feel safe and heard,” Philbin says.

Vaccine Distribution for Volunteers

Volunteers often interact with hundreds of people, so they get the chance to be vaccinated themselves. However, it’s not always the same scenario for every vaccination site. In Fox’s experience, volunteers will only get vaccinated if there is extra defrosted vaccines leftover that would otherwise get thrown out. 

“The day I was there, I got vaccinated," Fox says. "I know of people who helped who didn’t get vaccinated during their first shifts, but eventually did when they volunteered for other shifts. I knew going in that it wasn’t guaranteed to happen." It may also depend on how often you’ll volunteer. In Philbin’s case, the vaccination site works to vaccinate all volunteers but may require volunteers to commit to a certain number of shifts.

“I volunteered early in the process and they were clear that clerks were not eligible for vaccines. But they changed their policy just as I was starting to volunteer,” Fischer says. “At that time it was the only vaccination site open in the county. It was at the end of the day and the manager asked me if I would want to get vaccinated. I jumped at the opportunity.”

Upon hearing that volunteers get vaccinated as well, some individuals began to see it as a way to get the vaccine early. It does seem to be the back door in, but she wouldn't cast judgment on anyone who volunteers just to get vaccinated, Fischer says.

“I don’t condemn anyone who is getting vaccinated if they do it utilizing what is actually available, which seems really different from sneaking around or trying to pay to jump in line somehow," Fox says. "No vaccine doses should be wasted and having people right there to be vaccinated if there are extras seems really efficient and sensible." Fox notes that this still helps work toward the goal of herd immunity.

“We also have to remember that we are doing this not only for the health of the volunteers but the health of the people coming in,” Philbin says. “We are in this process for the long haul and will need a lot of volunteers over the coming months to ensure that we can vaccinate as many people as possible. As such, even if the intention or reason for volunteering is just to get the vaccine, it means people are still volunteering, and in the end that is what matters.”

Volunteering Can Be a Positive Experience

Helping out at a vaccination site is far from easy, but volunteers find it to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. For Philbin, volunteering has become the highlight of her week because she is surrounded by people who are excited and hopeful. According to her, the cheerful energy is infectious and people are so happy that they jump up and down, wiggle, or even dance.

“I’ve absolutely loved it. It is incredibly rewarding to see so many people who have been marginalized and excluded come in and get their vaccine and feel heard and supported in the process," Philbin says. "We are working hard to reach out to communities who need and deserve this vaccine and who are not receiving it in an equitable way."

Fox had a similar positive experience when she volunteered. “It was so much fun. Everyone was in a great mood, so happy to finally get vaccinated, that it felt like a big outdoor festival," she says. "It’s been a long time since I was around a lot of happy strangers and it was like a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day. I miss that sort of community feeling and I highly recommend getting a day of it as a balm to our stressed and isolated selves."

Not only is volunteering at COVID-19 vaccine distribution sites a great way to help your community during a time of crisis, but it’s also an opportunity to train with emergency response organizations.

“I feel like I’m finally giving back something to the community," Fischer says. "I do find it exhausting because you are on your feet eight hours a day. I just think the more people we can get vaccinated, the sooner we can get our life back to normal.”

However, we still have a long way to go before we vaccinate enough people to reach herd immunity, according to Philbin. “We will need volunteers because this will be going on for a long time," she says. "And we need to work harder to ensure that all people have access, not just those that can navigate social media and the websites for sign-up."

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.