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Heather Buschman at Petco Park Vaccination Super Station.

Volunteer and author Heather Buschman at UC San Diego Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Super Station at Petco Park.

Give Volunteering a Shot

Help is needed at UC San Diego Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Super Station at Petco Park

Heather Buschman on site.

Volunteer Heather Buschman braves the rain to help observe people post-vaccination and answer questions. You can’t tell, but she is smiling.

Rain started pouring down just as I arrived at Petco Park’s Tailgate Parking Lot, the site of San Diego’s first COVID-19 Vaccination Super Station, an impressive drive-thru site launched recently by UC San Diego Health, San Diego County, San Diego Padres and the City of San Diego. More than 50 other volunteers and I lined up under the tents to check in and get our assignments for the day.

If it were any other wet day in San Diego, I’m sure we’d all be home, staying warm. But, like most people, I’ve been at home A LOT for the past 10 months, wishing I could do something to help get us out of this pandemic, or at least help make people’s lives a little easier as we grapple with it. I appreciate just how lucky and privileged I am to have a comfortable home to share with my immediate family, a good job and my health at this time. So not even rain could make me miss the opportunity to pay it forward, and help get as many people vaccinated against COVID-19 as possible, as quickly as possible.

Cars at vaccination super station at Petco Park.

Volunteers help vaccinate people at the Vaccination Super Station at Petco Park.

There are several roles at the Vaccination Super Station for non-medical volunteers like me, including Check-in, Runner and Observer. I signed up to be an Observer for a Saturday 12:30 to 8:00 p.m. shift and received a link to some training videos and documents that helped me know what to expect and feel prepared beforehand. As an Observer, my job was to help the clinical volunteers (the vaccinators) direct cars in, let folks know what to expect, then continually check on them for 15 minutes after they receive their vaccines, keeping an eye out for the rare instance that someone might need medical attention. I get to put my multi-tasking mom skills to use!

While they waited in their cars for that post-vaccination observation period, I also got to chat with everyone in my section to see how they were feeling and make sure they knew how to schedule their appointments to come back for their second doses. I also encouraged folks to enroll in V-Safethe CDC’s side-effect symptom checker.

I’m passionate about informing and engaging the public with good science communication, so, though it’s not required, I also found myself answering some other vaccine-related questions that popped up, especially regarding the importance of continuing to mask and distance after vaccination. I hope at least a few left feeling as excited and grateful as I am about the COVID-19 vaccines and all the science that made them possible so quickly and safely. (See UC San Diego Health’s COVID-19 vaccine info page and FAQs.)

At the moment, only health care workers and people age 65 years and older are eligible to be vaccinated at San Diego County sites (see the state and county-determined phases). My most memorable visitor was an older man who had recently lost his wife. His grown children drove in with him, and he said they had been especially desperate to get him vaccinated since he is their only surviving parent. Like everyone I talked to, they were incredibly grateful for all of the staff and volunteers who made it not only possible, but fairly easy to get vaccinated—even in the rain.

volunteer check in ay Vaccination Super Station.

Volunteers help vaccinate people at the Vaccination Super Station at Petco Park.

During my roughly eight-hour shift as Observer, only two people experienced what might have been mild side effects. In each case, I alerted the charge nurse on duty and she and other medical professionals checked them over out of an abundance of caution. Both ended up fine and were cleared to leave at the end of their 15-minute wait period.

I hope many others in the UC San Diego community will also volunteer to help vaccinate our neighbors. If you do, here are my tips: leave extra time for traffic (you’ll receive a pass to park in the nearby Padres Lexus Premier Lot), dress in layers, wear comfy shoes, don’t forget your sunscreen, bring an easy-to-nibble snack and water bottle, pack an extra mask as your first one will likely get wet from rain, sweat and/or talking and wearing your employee or student ID makes for a helpful nametag. There are tables under the tents to store a bag, as well as portable toilets and distanced break tables.

Volunteer Gary Dinoso.

Volunteer Gary Dinoso helps people get checked in for their vaccinations.

I’m usually a baby about being cold, but my first shift flew by and I didn’t even notice my wet feet until I got back to my car. As we near a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to forget that we’re living in a truly historic time, and I’m proud to play at least a small part in the solution. Maybe I’ll get to tell my grandchildren about it someday. In any case, I’m already signed up to volunteer again next weekend.

If you are unable to volunteer at the Petco Park site, here’s another way to help: Many of those currently being vaccinated at the Vaccination Super Station are 65 and older and they rely on family members to help them schedule appointments and get to the Petco Park site. If you have an older relative or neighbor in San Diego, please reach out and see if you can assist them. There are also other county vaccination sites available in the region and more locations opening soon.