On the Frontlines

Nursing students assist with vaccination efforts

By Melissa Tav

The line wrapping around the Orange Cove Community Center increases by the hour as the morning dew starts to dissipate. Among those present are some of the Central Valley’s most vulnerable communities — farmworkers and individuals ages 65 and up.

They are among the first group in the region who will receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

Inside the center, Fresno State nursing student Danielle Pacheco prepares to administer the first dose of the Moderna vaccine to a migrant worker who appears to be in his 60s. He rolls up his sleeve slowly and Pacheco inserts the needle with careful precision. He lets out a hesitant, but hopeful sigh. For many of the migrant workers here, this day brings renewed optimism for their health and livelihood.

Danielle Pacheco

Danielle Pacheco and about 60 other Fresno State nursing students have served at pop-up vaccine clinics in rural areas since February — administering over 3,700 vaccinations to the Central Valley’s most vulnerable communities, where access to health care is not readily available.

Since February, these pop-up vaccine clinics have been made possible through a partnership between the Fresno State School of Nursing and local community organizations and government agencies, including the Fresno County Department

of Public Health, Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, Saint Agnes Medical Center and Cultiva La Salud.

The clinics have visited rural communities where access to health care — and the vaccine — are not readily available. Over 60 nursing students have helped to administer over 3,700 vaccinations.

“Not a lot of people getting vaccinated here today would necessarily leave their community to get the vaccine,” says Pacheco, who is in her fifth semester of the nursing program. “So, in that sense, it’s been so rewarding to be able to come out to these rural communities and to be able to give back in this way. Seeing where they’re from makes it so much more impactful.”

Before students can volunteer at the clinics, they must each complete a comprehensive, two-hour COVID-19 vaccine training course, as required by Fresno State’s School of Nursing.

“We couldn’t meet this pandemic head on if it were not for the partnerships that we’ve established and by our community leaning on and supporting each other,” Arambula, a physician, says. “I believe that the work we are doing allows us to be one step closer to getting back to life as we know it. It is an honor to work alongside these nursing students who are out here on the frontlines doing the hard work to help us to become a safer community.”

Students volunteer for a variety of roles, including client intake and screening, preparation of vaccines, administration of the vaccinations and the observation station.

“While they are gaining experience in assessing, instituting an intervention and monitoring the effect, the students are gaining compassion and giving back to the community,” says Dr. Sylvia Miller, chair of the School of Nursing at Fresno State.


Serving with gratitude

A few blocks south of the Fresno Fairgrounds lies the unincorporated community of Calwa. The beginning of the spring season is evident as the sun shines down on a group of community members awaiting their vaccines. Fifth-semester nursing student Joshua Hinson has been at the clinic since it opened four hours earlier. Despite the long hours, Hinson is optimistic and excited to be there helping his hometown.

“Every single person I’ve come across has been very thankful,” Hinson says. “You can tell how much they genuinely appreciate you being out here, and the feeling is mutual.”

For Hinson, the battle to beat COVID-19 hits home. His grandfather passed away from the disease in January. He says that being on the other end, helping to stop the spread, is gratifying.

Like thousands of others in Fresno County, many of the students have been personally impacted by COVID or know someone who has. Since the pandemic hit the region over a year ago, Fresno has seen over 100,000 cases.

“Every student is volunteering their time and some have come out two or three times already,” says Dr. Kathleen Rindahl, faculty coordinator of the mobile health unit in the School of Nursing. “They’ve come to the realization that, as nurses, we have a responsibility to help in these kinds of situations and they are just rolling up their sleeves to do it.”


Giving back to the Valley

Holly Vu

Holly Vu returned to school, after 10 years working in the IT field, to pursue a career in nursing. She says she is humbled to be a part of the solution to the pandemic, as she is passionate about doing work that protects the community, particularly the elderly population.

In Cantua Creek, a remote community about an hour southwest of Fresno at the border of San Joaquin and Tranquility, nursing student Holly Vu prepares to administer her first dose of the vaccine. Although she previously volunteered at other sites, administering the shot was new to her.

“It is a humbling experience to be a part of the solution to this pandemic,” Vu says. For many of the individuals receiving vaccinations, feelings of uncertainty and fear still linger, but Vu says being able to educate them on the vaccine has been meaningful.

After 10 years of working in the IT field, she returned to school a few years ago to pursue her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Now in her fourth semester of the five-semester program, Vu says she is ready to take on the challenges of the profession at the peak of the pandemic.

“I remember from personal experience, my mom — a single mom of five — taking us to free health care clinics just like these when I was growing up,” Vu says. “It is so important for me to give back now as a health care provider because my community has given so much to me. With the prevalence of COVID, I want to be a part of the work that protects our elderly population, and our community. This is why I chose to be a nurse.”

— Melissa Tav is a communications specialist in the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State.