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Roving the Tenderloin with Syringes: One Volunteer’s Story in the Time of COVID

By Annie Fischer

As some of you know, I’m a nurse practitioner when I’m not singing with the ensemble. In December of last year, just a couple of weeks before I would have gotten the vaccination, I got sick with COVID. My case was officially “mild” since it didn’t move into my lungs and never became life-threatening. But I was sicker than I’d ever been, with 3-weeks of fever and then months of major fatigue and brain fog that made me unsafe at work. I couldn’t remember how to do procedures that I’d been doing for years.

Although my sense of smell has not returned, I finally have a nearly normal level of energy and have returned to working my regular schedule. Recently, I decided it was time to do my part in getting more people protected against this deadly and debilitating virus, and went online to the “MyTurn” state website to find a volunteer group that could use my clinical skills. The first place to pop up was GLIDE and on a day that I was available. DONE!

On the afternoon of Thursday, August 19, I arrived at GLIDE’S parking lot and was assigned to a Roving Team to walk through the Tenderloin neighborhood and administer COVID vaccines to anyone who wanted and needed one. Our team of eight was given a backpack and a rolling box on wheels. Then off we went!

Roving the tenderloin with syringes in hand was rewarding and extremely entertaining. Our team included three nurses to administer vaccines, two nursing students to register folks and give them their vaccine cards, and three guides from Code Tenderloin to show us the way, helping to encourage people to get the shot, and to keep the rest of us out of trouble.

Some people had already been trying to get the vaccine but long lines, inconvenience, not knowing where to go or other logistical issues had made it too difficult. A man in an Amazon uniform was very happy to get it then and there. Another woman also chose to get one so she could visit her grandfather.

Many folks were on the fence. We heard all of the rumors and myths about turning into a magnet, causing people to get sick with the vaccine plus a few new ones, such as: It has iron in it (although if so, maybe better than spinach?). Some people said they just distrust any advice coming from the government. But after talking for a while, some individuals changed their minds. They seemed to trust us nurses and their neighbors from Code Tenderloin even more. (The gift bag and $15 gift certificates didn’t hurt).

Some people were still not convinced and gave us many reasons for not getting the vaccine. One group cheerfully offered to share their COVID protection plan with us, which turned out to be Mexican beer. Another person said that he was a scientific genius and had developed his own vaccine at home. But the general favorite was I’m not going to put that shit in my body mostly came from folks who appeared to have put some other substances in their bodies fairly recently.

It was great to hear from a very large number of people that they were already fully vaccinated. One man proudly pulled out his phone to show me a photo of his vaccine card as well as his wife’s card. A number of people asked about boosters.

When we returned to GLIDE, my feet ached from 3 ½ hours of walking. I was physically tired but felt very happy that we had helped protect 43 more people from the COVID 19 virus through our efforts. I’m planning to return to the streets until this virus is no longer such a threat to our communities.

Both clinical and non-clinical volunteers are still needed at GLIDE as well as at many other places across the state. You can sign up to help at the My Turn Volunteer website: https://www.californiavolunteers.ca.gov/myturnvolunteer/