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Medical Reserve Units Respond to H1N1

December 8, 2009

smiling female doctorA Nationwide Team of Volunteers

Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units, nationwide groups of volunteers organized to improve the health and safety of communities, have been extremely busy responding to both the H1N1 pandemic and to seasonal flu. As of September 2009, it was reported that approximately 70 percent of MRC units had responded to H1N1-related activities.

Founded in 2002, the MRC has grown to 850 individual units and more than 190,000 volunteers. MRC volunteers include medical and public health professionals, such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians, and epidemiologists. In addition, non-medical community members—such as interpreters, chaplains, and office workers—fill key support positions. 

Among other initiatives, MRC volunteers participate in exercises and response activities such as preparedness drills, mass fatality planning, animal preparedness, and first aid. During the 2005 hurricane season, MRC members provided support for health services, mental health, and shelter operations.

The MRC has had a great impact on H1N1 preparedness and response efforts, including participating in education campaigns for minority communities and assisting directly with safety measures at vaccination clinics. The Office of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps recently released a report about the MRC’s H1N1 influenza-related activities.

Eastern Washington MRC Helps to Meet Overwhelming Demand

During the past few months, the Eastern Washington MRC unit has assisted the Spokane Regional Health District with three H1N1 vaccination clinics in Washington state. The organizations share an agreement that the Eastern Washington MRC unit will provide ongoing volunteer support to the health district when required.

Because of the demand for H1N1 vaccine, there was clearly a need for a large team of volunteers—beyond the hardworking staff of local health departments. Becky Duffey, unit coordinator of the Eastern Washington MRC, says that when the one vaccination clinic first opened, people were waiting in a line a quarter of a mile long. The volunteers at two of the clinics each vaccinated approximately 1,300 people each. A third clinic received 3,000 doses of nasal spray and 800 doses of injectable vaccine and quickly ran out due to high demand.

Overall, the clinics were very successful; however, the challenge remained that vaccinators had to turn down citizens over 65 years old who continued to arrive at clinics. According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the target group for H1N1 influenza vaccination are those under the age of 65.

After all three clinics were completed, the volunteers had vaccinated 5,500 people, and dedicated 540 MRC volunteer hours to the clinics and 36 hours to H1N1 phone banks. In addition, the Eastern Washington MRC unit recruited at least 20 new volunteers to add to its number of fifty. The Eastern Washington MRC unit is scheduled to have four more H1N1 vaccination clinics during the month of December.

Who Can Volunteer for the Medical Reserve Corps?

  • Practicing, retired, or otherwise employed medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, pharmacists, nurses'' assistants, and others
  • Public health professionals
  • Community members without medical training can assist with administrative and other essential support functions.
  • United States citizenship is not required to be part of the MRC. Non-citizen, legal U.S. residents also are welcome to volunteer and contribute their time, knowledge, and skills to protecting and improving their communities.

For more information about the MRC or how to become a volunteer in your community, visit the Medical Reserve Corps Web site.


Comments about this post

Ashley Bowen
Given how strained many LHDs are, the work of MRC groups seems even more important than ever.  How are these workers counted  As volunteers  Or is their relationship with the LHD more regular and ongoing