By Lisa Hughes

BOSTON (CBS) – As more people in Massachusetts become eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, the need for people to give the shots is growing. Members of the Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps are playing a key role. The MRC is an offshoot of the National Medical Reserve Corps, created by the Bush Administration after 9/11. Both medical and non-medical volunteers are pre-screened so that—in the event of an emergency—they are ready to mobilize to meet the need.

When the pandemic started, volunteers were involved in the testing effort. Soon after, they were involved in contact tracing. Now that they are staffing vaccination clinics, volunteers like Katherine Marie Conover (aka “Dove”) say there is great satisfaction in helping people who, in turn, are exceedingly grateful. “They’re all very happy to be here,” Conover said. “They’re happy to get it. People ask wonderful questions when they’re in my chair and I’m happy to answer them.”

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When the Town of Arlington hosted its vaccination clinic recently, Heath & Human Services Director Christine Bongiorno knew—from past experience—that MRC volunteers would be able to enhance the process. “We’ve utilized the MRC during H1N1 clinics. We’ve utilized the MRC during flu clinics,” Bongiorno explained. “When we realized COVID vaccinations would occur, it just became evident that we’d be calling on the MRC to assist.”

MRC MetroEast Coordinator Mia Nardini says that is the goal—to offer public health departments another “tool” during the pandemic. “We’re in awe of… our volunteers and their selflessness and everything they’ve done to support our community,” Nardini said.

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Already, MetroEast MRC volunteers have contributed more than 1,000 hours to vaccination clinics and that is just one of 36 MRC units statewide.

MRC volunteer Justin Brown is proud to be on the “front lines” of the effort to combat the virus and protect people. He says it feels great to be able to make a difference and he urges everyone the shot when eligibility opens further. “The faster we do it, the faster we can get past this,” Brown said.

For more information on volunteering with the Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps, contact: www.maresponds.org.

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Visit Mass.Gov/CovidVaccine to find out when you’re eligible and to book an appointment.

Lisa Hughes