Photo by Tiegue Elliot ’22 of Associate Professor of Nursing Cyndy Jones

On the front lines of getting residents vaccinated in Winona County and Olmsted County are nursing students from Winona State University. 

By the time vaccine rollouts are at its peak, more than 160 WSU students in Winona and Rochester will be supporting the effort in a foundational way. 

In partnership with the two counties, WSU nursing students are in the process of being vaccinated so they can administer and support vaccinating community residents. Later, when vaccines are available to the university, they’ll be imperative in vaccinating other students, faculty, and staff. 

The nursing students are being seen as a ready and able workforce that will support vaccine clinics by checking in residents, at times administering vaccines, and observing for adverse reactions. From another angle, there are also nursing students in Rochester working to educate students and community populations about the vaccine, it’s impact, and its necessity.

It will make a huge difference. When we get into doing large scale vaccinations, we’re going to need all the help we can get.

Ben Klinger

Winona County Emergency Management Coordinator

“It will make a huge difference,” Winona County Emergency Management Coordinator Ben Klinger said. “When we get into doing large scale vaccinations, we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

Klinger added that having the students ready to jump in will allow the county to “ramp things up quickly” and get vaccines to the community on a quicker basis.

In the meantime, while the larger group of nursing students are on the docket for their own vaccines, 16 nursing students from Winona and some from Rochester are already in the mix to be vaccinated and brought into the fold to help with current efforts. WSU nursing faculty have also been hands on at community vaccine clinics and recently were part of 450 vaccines being administered in six hours.

“We are hoping to give more vaccines than 450 when we really ramp up,” said Cindy Bork, an Associate Nursing Professor. 

WSU nursing student Abigail Ziebell, who is one of the few vaccinated nursing students who helped with a recent vaccine clinic, said it’s an honor to help with vaccine efforts and has been a source of pride. 

“I’m proud to go into this field because I know I can make a difference,” she said. “The vaccinations are a big step towards us going back to our own lives and being able to interact with people like we did before.”

Earlier this month Ziebell got to see the impact of the field she will be entering after her graduation in May. While working at a vaccination site in Winona, she talked with residents who were being observed for adverse reactions after being vaccinated. 

“There was one older woman who said that she had had family that got COVID and she was really excited to get the vaccine because it would help her be around her family again,” Ziebell recalled. “She seemed relieved.” 

Relief is a common feeling in the air during vaccines, Ziebell said. 

“I was expecting people to be nervous,” Ziebell said. “Most of the people I talked to were just relieved and excited… that this would be over soon.”

Getting nursing students on the front lines of vaccine clinics also took a fair amount of work behind the scenes.

Just two of the numerous WSU faculty who helped organize the efforts were Associate Professor of Nursing Cyndy Jones and, from WSU-Rochester, Assistant Nursing Professor Marguerite Dummer.

Dummer teaches population health courses and works directly with community partners on health promotion initiatives that benefit both students and community members. She saw an impactful opportunity and jumped on the idea to help. 

For Jones, her involvement came about a different way. Jones is on sabbatical, but not the one she intended.

Due to the pandemic, her sabbatical plans of collecting and analyzing research results for Mayo Clinic had to change and she instead chose to dedicate it to COVID-19 response and vaccination efforts. 

“I had some guilt being an RN and being on sabbatical and not being on the front line,” Jones said. “That fueled me.” 

Between Jones, Dummer and others, an important question was asked. 

“What can we do to assist in both counties and bring back the new normal,” Jones said. “How do we get the most experiences for our nursing students and help the community as a whole.”

Photo by Tiegue Elliot ’22 of Associate Professor of Nursing Cyndy Jones

Jones said she was pulled to help not only because of the opportunity to make a difference, but also because she saw the negative spotlight students were getting during the pandemic. 

“These are great young adults,” Jones said. “All we need to do is teach them. Let’s find solutions rather than look for the blame.” 

Both are thankful for the opportunity WSU has to support the community and for the appreciation the counties have given for WSU’s efforts. 

“The common theme is the counties’ appreciation,” Dummer said. “What a unique opportunity for our students to be involved in both COVID education and vaccinations and to tell their children one day that they were involved in helping with this pandemic.”