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Behind the COVID-19 needle

This is special for paramedics to be included in administering vaccinations. It isn’t in our normal scope of practice under the Pa. EMS act, but a special expansion of the scope of service by the Pa. Department of Health allows us to do this for the COVID vaccine after completing an online education and an in-person skill evaluation with our medical director. Hopefully this will have long-lasting implications for the ability of paramedics to assist with more public health initiatives.

Working in the community vaccination center at Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital is a change of pace from my role caring for patients on the helicopter. The year started with uncertainty and changes to the way we respond to, treat and transport patients, as well as weeks of using our ventilators on almost every flight. But now we’re seeing hopeful changes in the number and acuity of patients we’re transporting. Working in the vaccine center lets me feel like I’m playing offense now instead of defense. And for the most part, the community members that come to the clinic are happy, excited, hopeful. As paramedics, we don’t usually interact with people who are having a “good day.” In the center, almost everyone is having one of their best days in a year.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk with people experiencing almost the full spectrum of emotions. I had a husband and wife who held hands while getting their shots. The wife saying to her husband, “Well, one more life experience we get to do together!” A grandmother was literally in tears because she hasn’t seen her grandchildren in a year and now had hope to see them for Easter. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk with people who, while they want the shot, are apprehensive about it. It’s nice to have the time to be able to sit and talk with them, answer their questions and hopefully alleviate some of their concerns.

Geisinger has done an amazing job with the vaccine center. The patient flow is smooth. Rarely does anyone have to wait to be checked in or to receive their shot. That is one of the most common comments I hear from people.

I’ve received both doses of the vaccine. My wife is an RN here at Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital. We both previously had COVID-19, and we have family members with health issues. While we both had very mild cases, we want to be the best advocates we can for our families.

My message to our communities: Having questions about the virus and the vaccine is normal. We’re still learning every day about this. Please don’t be afraid to talk to a health care provider you know. We’re here to advocate for you and help you make informed decisions about your health.

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Jeff Brytczuk serves our communities from behind the needle in the Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital community vaccine center.

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