Medical Reserve Corps volunteers step up during pandemic to help vaccinate public

In Virginia, there are nearly 30,000 volunteers in its Medical Reserve Corps. Thousands signed up in the wake of the pandemic to help. Just in the last year alone, their efforts have been the equivalent of $5.5 million worth of work.
Amy Black is a tattoo artist, but joined the Medical Reserve Corps in Virginia to help during the pandemic. She assists people as they arrive at a mass coronavirus vaccination site in Richmond, VA.
Many Medical Reserve Corps volunteers have no health care background, but do receive training from local health departments before getting deployed for non-medical tasks. Here, they are helping to register people who are getting a COVID vaccine shot in Virginia.
Medical Reserve Corps volunteers who are licensed to do medical tasks, like vaccinations, are the ones who administer the shots. However, other volunteers with no medical background can also help, with non-medical tasks related to getting millions of people vaccinated for COVID-19.
Posted at 11:00 AM, Feb 25, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. — It’s the waiting that is sometimes the hardest part.

After more than year of dealing with a global pandemic, people standing in a long line on a sunny day in Richmond, Virginia were getting their shot at the vaccine.

“So many people have been looking forward to this day,” said Amy Black, who was greeting everyone in line as they approached the front door to a mass vaccination site. “There's always going to be some people that have a little anxiety.”

In her regular life, Amy Black is a tattoo artist. But on that day, she was volunteering with Virginia’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC).

“We’re like the little cogs in the big machine,” she said with a laugh.

Virginia’s MRC is an army of volunteers, nearly 30,000 strong in the state, that’s been put to work throughout the pandemic.

“There is no way that we could be able to offer all the testing and vaccination events that we do without our Medical Reserve Corps volunteers,” said Cat Long, public information officer for the Richmond and Henrico Health District.

At the mass vaccination site, 70% of the people working there are Medical Reserve Corps volunteers. Those administering the shots are licensed to do so, but other volunteers are in the same boat as Tom Schneider.

“I have no medical background at all,” he said. “I'm a musician with the Richmond Symphony.”

With the symphony on a pandemic-induced hiatus, Schneider decided he wanted to help. So, he put down his bassoon and picked up volunteer shifts, working to register those getting vaccine shots.

“It's really rewarding to feel like I'm doing that little part of what I can do to get things back to normal again,” he said.

The Medical Reserve Corps began in the wake of 9/11, to be able to make sure there were volunteers available, in the event of a national disaster. About 20 years later, there are now 765 MRC units in nearly every state and territory in the U.S., with more than 200,000 volunteers. They all undergo training and background checks. Virginia’s MRC is one of the most robust.

“They're literally from all backgrounds all walks of life,” said Kate Bausman, the Richmond MRC Coordinator.

In Virginia, the MRC ranks swelled by the thousands when the pandemic began, with volunteers putting in the equivalent of $5.5 million worth of work, just in the last year alone.

“I've never seen anything like this, anything at all, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, when we didn't really know what was happening, how dangerous it was, what would happen to folks who went out into the community, and we still had hundreds and hundreds of people wanting to help and wanting to help their community and volunteer,” Bausman said. “It’s amazing. It’s wonderful.”

For more information on volunteering or to find the Medical Reserve Corps unit near you, click here.