When University of Southern Maine nursing student Rebecca Seeley-Dolan heard hundreds of nursing students from the University of Maine system were volunteering to deploy the coronavirus vaccine, she knew she wanted to join the effort.

Last week, she got her first chance to put her training into action in the real world by helping administer COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 1,500 people March 12 and 13 at the former Pier One location at the Maine Mall.

Rebecca Seeley-Dolan is one of the 70 University of Southern Maine nursing students who have been helping at vaccination clinics in the area. Contributed / Rebecca Seeley-Dolan

Seeley-Dolan said she was glad to be able to help to vaccinate those who came to the clinic, many of whom were teachers and other school staff, and ease some of their concerns regarding the shot.

“As people walk through the door, you could see them take a deep breath and see the stress leave their body,” she said. “It was a very emotional experience for both the providers and the people coming in.”

Seeley-Dolan is one of 70 nursing students at USM trained in COVID-19 vaccine administration and “ready to be deployed” with Northern Lights vaccination clinics at the mall and at York Hospital, according to Brenda Peterson, associate dean of nursing and associate professor at the USM’s School of Nursing.

“It’s the most important thing we could be doing for the health of our community,” USM nursing student Caroline Fulcher said in a prepared statement. “I came into this profession to help people. There is no better opportunity right now.”

The students will also help Greater Portland Health administer the vaccine to refugees, immigrants and other patients the public health clinic serves.

Greater Portland Health appreciates their help, said Elizabeth Jackson, chief operations officer, but so far the vaccine supply has been too low to bring them on.

Chantelle Nixon, a student in the accelerated nursing program at the University of Southern Maine, was among the volunteers at vaccine clinics last week at the Maine Mall. Contributed / Rebecca Seeley-Dolan

Greater Portland Health has been able to vaccinate some of its patients, but its weekly allotment has “been variable,” so regular vaccination hours have not yet been scheduled.

“We hope as the vaccine supplies increase, we can better plan what our allotment will be and provide more clinics,” Jackson said.

Seeley-Dolan, a resident of Scarborough, said she was attracted to the nursing program after serving for years as a health care advocate for her father, who recently died of brain cancer, and because her daughter has a rare metabolic disorder.

“I really wanted to give back for all the care we received and be a part of helping people,” said Seeley-Dolan, who is expected to graduate from the 15-month accelerated nursing program in August.

The nursing students participating in vaccine administration will receive credit toward graduation for what Seeley-Dolan says has been a great learning experience.

“Being in the accelerated program during COVID, we aren’t getting many hands-on opportunities and have had to do everything online,” she said Seeley-Dolan, who is interested in pediatric or geriatric nursing in the future.

Close to 250 student nurses from the University of Maine at Orono, University of Maine at Fort Kent, University of Maine at Presque Isle and USM are volunteering in the effort.

“This is part of the overall effort of the University of Maine system to do whatever we can to help Maine through the pandemic,” Dannel Malloy, chancellor of the University of Maine system, said at a January press conference.

According to the State of Maine Vaccination Dashboard, as of March 15, 512,284 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been given out, including to 323,0491 people (24% of Maine’s population) who received first doses and 189,235 people, 14%, who received second doses or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In total, 90,107 residents 70 and older have been fully vaccinated.

Mainers 60 and older became eligible to receive the vaccine this month, and the state also began prioritizing vaccines for teachers and school staff. According to the state’s timeline, those 50 and older should become eligible next month. In response to President Joe Biden’s new directive, all adults will be eligible for the vaccine no later than May 1.

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