Written by Pen-Chi Liu, Julienne Chi
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has urgently approved the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine since the end of 2020, hoping to suppress the spread of the virus. Dr. Samuel Chen, a member of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA), has assisted Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region branch in applying for vaccines since the beginning of January 2021.
Medical volunteers and TIMA members are also actively preparing for vaccination activities. Tzu Chi USA obtained a small number of vaccines at the beginning of March and set up a vaccination event within a week. On March 14, 45 qualified Tzu Chi volunteers received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In the same month, Tzu Chi USA collaborated with MedX Pharmacy in Houston’s Chinatown, working hand in hand to vaccinate 100 residents with the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 28.
Preventive Action During the Pandemic
Dr. Samuel Chen, a virology expert and an internal medicine physician explained that the vaccine would be available throughout the United States starting December 2020. By March 2021, three brands of authorized COVID-19 vaccine were available in the U.S., Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTec, and Johnson & Johnson (J&J).
However, concurrently, with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading for more than a year worldwide, variants of the virus surfaced. Around March, there were mainly four variants circulating. Among them, a British variant had a severe impact in the United Kingdom, which led the country to another lockdown.
Dr. Chen alerted the public that the four variant viruses were present in the United States, including the Houston area. He was concerned that lockdowns were easing in many countries, leading some people to assume that the pandemic is ending, so they don’t have to pay as much attention to preventive action as they did in the past.
And yet, if everyone enjoys more relaxed lockdown measures, it may reverse all the progress in combating the spread of the virus. Thus, even after vaccination, should we sit back and relax our vigilance? Dr. Chen explained that vaccination is a crucial step, but more importantly, everyone still needs to maintain preventive measures.
Moreover, being vaccinated doesn’t mean that you will be fully immunized, as there is still a possibility of getting infected. However, if a vaccinated person is infected, the symptoms may be mild, reducing the chances of hospitalization or death.
Mobilizing Volunteers in an Orderly Manner
At around 7 o’clock in the morning on March 14, more than 30 volunteers arrived at Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region branch campus and began preparations for the vaccination event. Dr. Chen led the medical volunteers to dispense the vaccine into syringes, while the other volunteers worked in teams to assist in registration.
The residents with appointments for vaccination began arriving one after another. Volunteers double-checked their list then entered the information into the computer after confirmation. Once registered, volunteers guided care recipients to the injection area where medical professionals administered the vaccine.
After receiving the injection, the event staff asked care recipients to stay in a waiting area for 15 minutes, where medical professionals could observe to assure there was no adverse reaction to the vaccine. Once this was confirmed, they could go home.
Volunteer Hsiupi Yang, who was in charge of scheduling the tasks for the day, said that the pandemic in Houston is very severe, so it was great to see that Tzu Chi had acquired vaccines and could offer this event. The Southern Region branch had started preparatory work for it as far as two months before.
Once the branch received the vaccines, its volunteers scheduled the first event six days later and mobilized those who would serve during it. Only Tzu Chi volunteers and family members who met current state criteria were vaccinated on March 14. However, as Tzu Chi USA receives more doses, future events were to open registration to community members eligible at that time.
Protecting Volunteers Serving the Community
Volunteer Chinglin Tsai, who is at an elevated risk for contracting COVID-19, was very grateful for getting vaccinated at Tzu Chi USA’s Houston office. “Since I’m in the high-risk group, I’m very worried. A month ago, when vaccination was available to me. I searched for it at hospitals and government websites, hoping to get vaccinated as soon as possible. But I registered at three places but did not receive a response. I didn’t get a response from anywhere, and I became anxious,” she explained. Thankfully, that would soon change:
Huifang Wang from Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region was also allowed to get vaccinated in this tier because she assists in distributing food at the pantry. She believes that vaccination can slow the spread of the pandemic, and now, not only can she feel more at ease, but she can also continue to benefit the entire community more safely.
Volunteer Liwei Yang, an essential worker, mentioned that although his workplace also encourages prevention measures and every employee respects social distancing, the vaccinations can further protect family and friends. If the vaccine is available to them, he hoped all residents would get vaccinated as soon as possible, helping to end the pandemic.
Collaborating With Community Pharmacies
The second vaccination event took place two weeks later, on March 28. Dr. Chen explained that it was possible thanks to Tzu Chi USA Southern Region’s collaboration with MedX Pharmacy and Compounding in the Houston Chinatown area, which hoped to provide vaccines for residents in the neighborhood. Bin Yu, the owner, and his colleagues had been applying for vaccines since December 2020. The pharmacy finally received a supply in early March, and set plans in motion to offer it to the community in collaboration with Tzu Chi USA.
Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region branch immediately confirmed the collaboration with MedX Pharmacy and quickly recruited the medical professional and community volunteers needed for the event they scheduled for March 28. On that day, everyone gathered at the regional branch in the morning and started setting up the venue, confirming the appointment list, and cleaning and disinfecting all related supplies.
Volunteer Hsiupi Yang, who was in charge of scheduling the work ahead, explained the process in detail. Volunteers were to check care recipients’ IDs, fill out the registration form, then the health-related questionnaire. Dr. Chen reiterated the importance of vaccination to curb the virus’s spread and benefit the community, especially those most vulnerable. Underserved groups often lack information, which can result in exclusion from vaccination efforts.
The efforts of Tzu Chi volunteers in Houston have affirmed their mission to serve the community, and at this moment in time, helping people get vaccinated is paramount. Joining forces with community businesses and organizations will only amplify those efforts, as we have seen here.