In just two months since opening the doors on February 19, 2021, the UNC Asheville-MAHEC COVID-19 Immunization Site has administered a total of 15,000 vaccines to community members from across Western North Carolina.
The partnership between UNC Asheville and the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) includes shared expertise and a commitment to the community and region. Now it’s reaching more individuals than either organization could alone, nearly three times the combined student and employee numbers of UNC Asheville, which has a student enrollment of 3,400 and just under 1,000 employees, and adding about 10% to MAHEC’s reach, which includes 170,000 annual patient visits in North Carolina’s 16 westernmost counties.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the strong partnership between UNC Asheville and MAHEC has continued to deepen and broaden in a variety of ways that support our shared commitment to education and public health,” said UNC Asheville Chancellor Nancy J. Cable. “Whether we are supporting peer-to-peer health and vaccine awareness through the Student Health Ambassador program, increasing vaccine access for historically marginalized communities, or ensuring geographic equity for vaccine appointments, the unique collaboration between UNC Asheville and MAHEC is playing a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19 in Western North Carolina.”
As of April 19, the 15,000 doses administered at UNC Asheville is nearly 20% of the first and second doses administered in Buncombe County, which reports 70,489 total first and second doses administered. The UNC Asheville-MAHEC reached the 15,000 dose milestone on Tuesday, April 20.
The on-campus vaccination site, located in the Reuter Center that is traditionally home to OLLI (the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville), has been in operation 33 days, including two days of vaccination clinics for students, faculty and staff. The clinic has received doses of all three vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. It paused administering the J&J one-dose vaccine in mid-April following CDC and FDC recommendations.
Behind the scenes, the clinic relies on dedicated staff and volunteers. MAHEC coordinates all of the on-site clinical operations, while UNC Asheville manages the vaccine site logistics, traffic, safety and volunteers. It’s a team effort with hundreds of volunteers, including UNC Asheville employees and students, MAHEC faculty and staff, as well as community members.
As the Citizen-Times noted in April 9th coverage, students are rolling up their sleeves for vaccines in more ways than one. At UNC Asheville, it’s a peer-to-peer approach with Student Health Ambassadors making calls to schedule appointments and raising awareness about the importance of the vaccine. The Student Health Ambassador program at UNC Asheville is also funded by MAHEC with 20 students employed in the initiative this spring. At least one of those students, junior biology major and health and wellness minor Claudia Prieto Alcaide, from Madrid, Spain, spent a weekend making 17 hours of calls to make sure her classmates were scheduled for their shots. In addition to being a Student Health Ambassador, she’s also a student-athlete on the track and field team.
“I became an SHA because I really liked the job description (helping people at UNCA during this difficult time). I think it will open many doors for me in the future as it has given me experience in communicating with others, helping people, and committing to a job,” she said. “I had a feeling it would take long [to make calls], but I know that at this point getting the vaccine is the best thing we can do to try to go back to a somewhat ‘normal’ lifestyle, like the one we had before the pandemic…. I was very proud of myself for being able to help with something so big and meaningful.”
Scheduled for a break day of Thursday, April 8 and on the weekend of Sunday April 11, these student-centered clinics administered 1,100 vaccines for UNC Asheville students, faculty and staff as well as Warren Wilson College students.
The UNC Asheville-MAHEC COVID-19 Immunization Site averages more than 600 doses in a day. Most patients will be in-person on site for just 20 minutes to half an hour, including the recommended 15 minutes observation time after receiving their vaccination. These efficiencies stem from UNC Asheville’s existing expertise, with professionals from emergency management, public safety, information technology, conferences and camps, campus operations communication and marketing, human resources, and health and counseling all dedicating their efforts to this campus and community service.
The UNC Asheville-MAHEC COVID-19 Immunization Site typically operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The days of the week depend on vaccine allocation, and it is generally open four days a week. Appointments are required. To sign-up visit https://covid.mahec.net/.