The monumental effort to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19 is bringing together health care professionals from every corner of the nation and from every government agency imaginable. Among those called to service recently is Cizik School of Nursing at UT Health Assistant Professor Daniel Arellano, PhD, RN, who in March worked with the National Disaster Medical System and a Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT).
“The federal government is just pulling out all the stops to make sure that people get their vaccines,” he said.
Arellano’s certifications are too long to list – he maintains everything from paramedic certification to acute care nurse practitioner licensure and works full time in the intensive care unit at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He began teaching at Cizik School of Nursing in 2012 and advanced to assistant professor after earning his PhD from the school in 2019.
DMATs are civilian teams of health care professionals who typically respond to hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and other natural disasters. Team members keep deployment bags at the ready, stocked with camping gear, ready-to-eat meals, and enough other necessities to sustain themselves three days until support and supplies arrive at a disaster site.
Deployments occur more often during hurricane season than at other times of the year, so Arellano thought the odds of being called up in March were relatively low. But as with all things over the past year, COVID-19 changed everything.
“If you are rostered for the month, you are going!” Arellano said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Vaccination centers supported by DMATs range from gigantic operations like the one at NRG Park in Houston to the small site in an underserved neighborhood where Arellano worked 14-hour days for two weeks straight. He administered over 100 of the 21,000 shots delivered but spent most of his time counseling patients about the vaccine.
“The patients were just flabbergasted that the government brought in all of these people to support them from different parts of the country, all walks of life, and so many professions,” Arellano said.
Other teams from around the country joined the vaccination efforts, including one group based in Alaska. As Arellano and his team left the New York state community center on their last day, other health care workers stood and applauded, and patients joined in.
“We were tearing up,” Arellano recalls. “We were exhausted and proud of all the work we did.”
Sherri Deatherage Green