Sabrina Wilson UW-Eau Claire

UW-Eau Claire nursing student Sabrina Wilson checks a person’s temperature on campus. Wilson is one of several local college students who has volunteered to aid mobile COVID-19 vaccination teams working to get vaccines distributed in Wisconsin this winter.

EAU CLAIRE — Some UW-Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley Technical College students are volunteering to work at the front lines of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign by joining Wisconsin’s newly-minted mobile vaccination teams.

Local nursing instructors say students will get invaluable experience working during a national health emergency, and that they’ll provide much-needed help to local health departments hustling to get vaccines into arms.

“This is an opportunity to not observe, but actually participate,” said Linda Young, dean of UW-Eau Claire’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “This may be their one and only time in a pandemic. To be able to participate in helping with vaccinations is huge.”

Gov. Tony Evers announced Jan. 15 that the Wisconsin National Guard would begin helping local and tribal health departments by sending new mobile vaccination teams, or MVTs, throughout the state.

An MVT will likely consist of one nursing or pharmacy student, along with four National Guard citizen soldiers or airmen or other volunteers.

MVTs could deploy to a campus vaccination site, or to a rural community to help run a temporary vaccine clinic, Young said.

If a health department needs help distributing vaccines, the MVTs will offer aid, Evers’ office said.

As it launches, the state MVT program is deploying nine teams, and may add more later.

That’s where local college students come in.

UW-Eau Claire junior nursing student Sabrina Wilson is one of several local students who volunteered to be a part of the MVT program, according to the university.

Wilson was also one of the state’s first nursing students to be part of a test run of the MVT program last week in Eau Claire County, Young said.

“The pandemic has brought so much pain and suffering to our country and community. At this point, the two vaccines that the FDA approved are crucial for us to restore our life and protect our community,” Wilson told UW-Eau Claire’s Integrated Marketing and Communications this month.

CVTC nursing students are also joining the effort.

CVTC students will be volunteering with Eau Claire County vaccination clinics beginning next week, said CVTC Dean of Nursing Gina Bloczynski in an email.

Working to stop a pandemic, unfortunately, may be useful experience for Wisconsin’s newly-minted health care professionals, said Pamela Guthman, UW-Eau Claire clinical assistant professor in nursing.

“The predictions, unfortunately, are that we’re going to continue to have more, evolving infectious diseases,” Guthman said Monday. “Hopefully nothing of this magnitude again, but it’s an opportunity to use those same techniques for prevention.”

In an all-hands-on-deck situation, experts say the nation needs students’ help.

Hospitals are busy vaccinating their own staff and caring for COVID-19 patients. Wisconsin health departments are organizing county-level campaigns to vaccinate other health care workers, police and fire workers, and now people older than 65.

“As this vaccine continues to roll out to the whole of Wisconsin, it was clear we needed more than just two arms of vaccination rollout,” Young said.

Students who work for at least 16 hours in the program will get a $500 tuition credit from the UW System — just like other UW students who have pitched in to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This pandemic is an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Guthman said.

As of Monday, just over 8,500 residents of Eau Claire County had received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.