Veterinarians assist with COVID-19 vaccine supply

A mother, grandmother and toddler were among the people who came to COVID-19 vaccination sites in Nevada in February. The mother had just taken the family dog ​​for vaccinations and she told the toddler that mom was going to get a vaccine. The toddler said, “Just like Herzog!”

The person giving the vaccine, Dr. Peggy Shaver, a veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found the situation particularly appropriate, though she didn’t have time to mention that she happens to be a veterinarian.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture team from Carson City, Nevada helping with COVID-19 vaccination poses for a photo at a vaccination site at the Comstock History Center in Virginia City, Nevada. In the first row from left to right is Dr. Kristin Napoli, animal care specialist; Lanora Elliston-Gittings, program analyst; Dr. Courtney Jernigan, veterinarian; Dr. Debra Sime, veterinarian; and Gloria Magana, security officer. In the back row from left to right is Dr. Scott Kramer, veterinarian; Randall Coleman, Animal Care Inspector; Dr. Albert Van Geelen, Regulatory Veterinarian; Dr. Jason Baldwin, veterinarian; and Dr. Kelley Black, veterinarian. (Courtesy USDA)

The USDA Animal and Phytosanitary Inspection Service had deployed 200 people, including veterinarians and animal health technicians, as of March 3, to help deliver the COVID-19 vaccine. Other USDA agencies had also dispatched 28 vets to help.

Several states have also started including private veterinarians in their vaccination schedules. Private veterinarians in these states have volunteered in a variety of roles, from assisting with screening to administering vaccines.

On March 11, President Biden announced that his federal administration would expand the pool of skilled professionals who can manage shots to include veterinarians and veterinary students (see sidebar).

USDA veterinarians

Dr. Kristin Napoli, Regulatory Animal Care Specialist at USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, prepares a vaccine while she is deployed in Nevada to help with COVID-19 vaccination. (Courtesy USDA)

As of March 3, APHIS had dispatched 144 workers to Nevada and Oklahoma to conduct COVID-19 vaccinations in areas with rapid spread. The USDA Agricultural Research Service, Agricultural Marketing Service, and Food Safety and Inspection Service had dispatched veterinarians to aid vaccination efforts in Nevada, Maryland, and Oklahoma.

APHIS vets dispatched to Nevada for 30 days in February included Dr. Shaver and Dr. Kristin Napoli, a regulatory animal care specialist. Dr. Shaver was primarily used as a vaccine in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, while Dr. Napoli led a team of USDA volunteers from Carson City, the state capital, in a rural and mountainous area with wild horses.

Upon arrival, both vets were undergoing training on COVID-19 vaccines and how to administer a vaccine to humans. Dr. Shaver said, “This is just one more anatomy that we can add to what we already consider in our day-to-day work. So we are pretty well placed to be able to vaccinate safely.”

In Clark County, the two primary vaccination sites were in the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Cashman Center. There were also pop-up sites in high schools and community centers. In the Carson City area, there was even a history museum on the exhibition grounds.

Dr.  ShaverDr. Peggy Shaver, a veterinarian at APHIS, creates vaccines in the pharmacy section of a surgery to administer COVID-19 vaccines in Nevada. (Courtesy USDA)

One of Dr. Napoli’s favorite memory is the vaccination of a man in his nineties whose son showed photos of the father who worked as a detective on the Charles Manson case. Dr. Napoli said many people’s stories are full of tears, people desperate to see their grandchildren again. She would cry with them.

Dr. Shaver said a man who was vaccinated started crying because he had lost so many friends and family members. She said, “Everyone is so grateful, but here too there are some strong emotions that we need to control.”

For Dr. Shaver was out of conversation most of the time she was a vet, but Dr. Napoli has a number of scrubs that they call “Dr. Napoli. “Whenever people commented that she was a doctor, she would look left and right and then say,” I’m a veterinary doctor. “They would reply that they would not bite or start making animal noises, or they would say: “Oh, meat is meat.”

Dr. Shaver said the vaccination trials are a victory for the one-health approach to collaboration between health professionals. The USDA has used health professionals from a variety of disciplines to help. One day, Dr. Shaver with a local volunteer who is a dentist. Dr. Napoli said another local volunteer was a coroner.

Dr. Napoli’s thesis for her Masters in Public Health dealt with the one health concept. She said, “It was the absolute thrill of getting this itch so satisfied that we were doing it as literally as possible to help our human colleagues.”

A veterinarian in Ohio

Dr.  cutterDr. Chrissie Schneider, who works for Merck Animal Health, volunteered with the Ohio Medical Reserve Corps to help deliver COVID-19 vaccines. She took this selfie after receiving her first of two cans on February 5th, which was also her first day of volunteering. (Courtesy of Dr. Schneider)

By February, AVMA knew that at least four states – Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, and Ohio – had started including private veterinarians in their vaccination schedules. AVMA recommends checking the possibility of legal risks before volunteering (see sidebar).

Dr. Chrissie Schneider, a senior veterinarian for equine services at Merck Animal Health, has signed up to volunteer with the Ohio Medical Reserve Corps to help deliver COVID-19 vaccines.

“I definitely feel motivated to help in any way I can, be it giving the vaccine or driving traffic or helping people sign up to end this pandemic as soon as possible,” she said .

Dr. Schneider has signed up for a dual role as a screener or vaccine for their Franklin County, which includes the state capital, Columbus. She also signed up as a potential volunteer for two other nearby counties.

On February 5th, her first day of volunteering, Dr. Tailor screener at a vaccination station in the Franklin County Board of Elections building. When people make an appointment to get a vaccine, they fill out screening questions, and then the on-site screeners go through the questions with each person. That day, the morning was reserved for people age 75 and older who received the first of two doses, and the afternoon was reserved for key personnel such as first responders and health care workers who received their second shot.

(LR) Drs. Gaffke, Evans, Schneider and SchumacherFour veterinarians volunteered at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic set up by Franklin County Public Health on March 5 in Franklin County, Ohio. Two went through screening questions and two administered vaccines. From left to right are Drs. Ryan Gaffke, who works for the Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and holds a COVID-19 vaccination card; Samantha Evans, clinical pathologist at Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center; Chrissie Schneider, Senior Veterinarian, Equine Professional Services, Merck Animal Health; and Stephen Schumacher, Principal Administrator of US Equestrian’s Equine Drugs and Medications Program. (Courtesy of Dr. Schneider)

Some people were memorable because they were so excited, especially among the 75 year olds and older. One screening question was, “Have you been exposed to anyone with COVID symptoms in the past 14 days?” Many elderly people watched Dr. Tailor and said, “I haven’t seen anyone in months.” They hadn’t been home in a while so it was a celebration for many of them to finally get their first dose and be on their way to protection.

Dr. Schneider was also happy about the vaccination. She has not seen her parents in person in over a year, but looks forward to seeing them when they are all vaccinated.

Last year, the work for Dr. Tailor completely virtual. As a Merck employee, she is fortunate enough to get 40 paid hours per year as a volunteer. She plans to use up those five days of volunteering on the vaccination effort and then try to volunteer on weekends or evenings when a growing vaccine supply leads to an increase in hours at vaccination sites.

“This is something that I hope will be unique, but we will look back in 20, 30, 50 years and say, ‘Hey, I was involved in it,'” she said.