January 6, 2010

Students Led Local Fight Against Swine Flu

Raphael Cuomo ’11 headed efforts to recruit students and staff an area vaccination clinic

Sixteen Lafayette students were on the front line in the fight against H1N1 flu in Lehigh County last fall. Raphael Cuomo ’11 provided the vision for the public health volunteer effort and worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Northeast District Office and the Lehigh County Emergency Management Agency to recruit and coordinate Lafayette students to staff an H1N1 vaccination clinic at the Pennsylvania Expo Center in Allentown.

Cuomo (Los Angeles, Calif.), a biology major, began his work in mid-October when Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center received a request from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) for volunteers to help staff H1N1 flu vaccination clinics.

“At first, the system was very tedious,” says Cuomo. “Prospective volunteers would have to fill out a very lengthy registration on the Pennsylvania DOH’s web site. They also would have been called in to volunteer at random, with no transportation framework at all. Through negotiations, we were given permission to organize volunteers ourselves, which is to say that I collected names and set up a transportation system for the volunteers. It was also at this time that I learned of other regulations, such as the number of students we could bring, the amount of training each volunteer would need, and the amount of time each volunteer would need to be at the clinic. We were also able to ensure that, even though the students would not be using the DOH’s method of registration, they would still be covered under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.”

Lafayette volunteers helped with several tasks at the clinic, including serving as vaccinators’ assistants by filling out record forms for the vaccinators and making sure supplies were ready. Several students worked as supply runners, providing vaccination stations with shots and picking up completed paperwork. Other students helped with general crowd control and directed patients through the clinic.

Cuomo developed laryngitis a few days before the clinic and had to delegate his volunteer oversight responsibilities to his friend Mike Handzo ’11 (North Attleboro, Mass.), a government and law major, who is also heavily involved with the Landis Center.

“The clinic was excellent!” says Handzo. “All the volunteers found it to be a gratifying and fulfilling experience. I enjoyed myself very much, and was grateful to participate in such a timely service effort with immediate, widespread impact.”

“The Lafayette volunteers were very helpful in assisting with getting 3,000 plus people vaccinated and through the facility in a very timely manner,” says Tanya Light, community outreach coordinator for the Lehigh County Emergency Management Agency. More than 8,000 people were vaccinated during the weekend. “Thank you to you and your students in making the H1N1 clinic such a success.”

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