Volunteering at FIU’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a learning experience for the world. For students studying public health, the lessons have been invaluable for a career in the field.

Earlier this year, Anny Rodriguez received an email from Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, the chair of epidemiology at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, asking for student volunteers. The university had just received the first batch of vaccines from Miami-Dade County through the Florida Department of Health to help vaccinate the FIU community. They needed volunteers to help run the clinic.

For Rodriguez, saying yes to the request was a no-brainer. She had just started a Ph.D. degree program in epidemiology at Stempel College and saw it as an opportunity to get firsthand experience in her field.

“I hadn’t had this kind of exposure. Before studying for my Ph.D., I worked in a hospital setting and got to work with patients,” Rodriguez says. “This was a tremendous effort to combat what was happening. Being a volunteer showed me what it is that I’m studying and the impact that I can make.”

Rime Jebai, an epidemiology doctoral student at Stempel College, also volunteered at the clinic. The experience allowed her to put her studies into action.  

“The pandemic is one of the most devastating events that I have experienced in my life. I thought it was important to help fight this pandemic. I found that volunteering was a perfect way to contribute my time,” she says.

Volunteers make an impact

Rodriguez and Jebai are two of nearly 100 volunteers throughout the university who answered the call to support the vaccine clinic.

“I am proud of these Stempel students who sprung into action during a time of uncertainty and fear to help meet the needs of our community,” says Tomás R. Guilarte, dean of Stempel College. “To be a volunteer is to give your time selflessly with no expectation of getting anything in return. Anny and Rime used their experience in public health to make a difference, all while balancing school and life amid a pandemic. It’s truly admirable.” 

Volunteers—faculty, staff and students—run the clinic and ensure people get vaccinated quickly and efficiently by FIU volunteer nurses and doctors. From checking people in for their appointments to scheduling their second doses, volunteers play different roles to ensure the clinic runs smoothly.

Amy B. Aiken, assistant vice president of FIU’s Division of Operations and Safety and director of Emergency Management, says the clinic has administered more than 10,000 first and second doses to the university community. But, most importantly, she shared that this critical work couldn’t have been done without volunteers like Rodriguez and Jebai. 

“This whole operation isn’t done by one person. It’s a team effort,” said Aiken. “I have immense gratitude for our volunteers and their time, professionalism, and commitment to FIU. Just by being here, they were a part of history. They can say that they lived during a pandemic and were there to assist in bringing an end to it.”

Aiken shares that as long as there are available vaccines, she and volunteers will continue to be there.

“Our goal is to get everyone vaccinated, but of course, we cannot mandate it. We are here to ensure people have access to the vaccine so they can keep themselves and their families healthy and safe,” she says.

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