This woman left retirement to volunteer at Niagara's COVID-19 vaccine clinics

More than 200 people in Niagara have volunteered to help people get vaccinated against COVID-19. Here's one of them.

'I feel like I'm part of the effort, in whatever small part I play,' said Cheryl Morris

Cheryl Morris is spending her time volunteering at vaccination clinics in the Niagara region. (City of Port Colborne)

Cheryl Morris could have sat out the COVID-19 pandemic, staying home and far from any risk of exposure. Instead, the retired corporate communicator decided to step up and volunteer at Niagara's vaccination clinics.

Now she's playing a role in helping the region recover.

"I strongly believe in everybody getting vaccinated and I know some people have maybe some hesitation, and … I wanted to encourage everybody I know to get vaccines," she said.

"I feel like I'm part of the effort, in whatever small part I play."

Morris is just one of 239 volunteers working at mass immunization clinics across the region, who health officials say have put in more than 2,000 hours since the first site opened in Niagara Falls on March 18.

Niagara's use of volunteers at clinics is fairly unique in the area. Hamilton Public Health Services says it's only used city staff at its clinics and "the use of volunteers has not been necessary to date." Brant County Health Unit doesn't use volunteers at its clinics either.

Haldimand and Norfolk looking at training volunteers

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit uses retired nurses, paramedics, administrative professionals, and other community members at all vaccine clinics "and behind the scenes in many different roles," said Sarah Page, head of the vaccine rollout, in an email. 

"We have not moved into our volunteer listings at this time, as we have seen such great partnerships with our family health teams, hospitals, and local health care professionals," she said. "We do have a listing for volunteers and may be doing some upcoming training to get them on board."

In Niagara, "we are so grateful and honoured by all of the amazing volunteers who answered the call to support our clinics," said Lauralee Remollino, the volunteer program's coordinator, in a media release.

"The patience, perseverance and continued support they have shown has truly been an inspiration to all of us."

Morris's smiling face greets people coming to get their shots at the region's clinics.

10 volunteers at a time

You can't see the actual smile, of course. It's hidden behind a mask and a pair of goggles or a face shield, but you can tell she's smiling all the same.

Morris said her tasks have included welcoming people, directing them where to go and checking in with people in the recovery area where they must wait 15 minutes before leaving.

She also wipes down and sanitizes chairs and other surfaces to keep the clinic clean.

Roughly 10 volunteers work at a time, with two shifts covering the facility from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. to ensure people can get their shots.

Morris said she tries to work two shifts a week, but the online portal where volunteers can sign up tends to fill up quickly.

'I don't feel unsafe at all'

Volunteers are provided with personal protective equipment, and Morris said they make sure to maintain physical distancing of at least two metres.

"I don't feel unsafe at all. Everybody's following the rules and is very careful. It's a very happy place to be."

The role has given her a front-row seat to plenty of positive scenes.

While some who come in for a vaccine are nervous, and worried about whether the shot might hurt, the visits tend to end with them thanking volunteers and health care staff.

"We know that when people leave they'll have this great sense of relief that they have their vaccine and they feel somewhat protected," said Morris. "There's a big sigh of relief from people."

The Niagara Region has reported 13,059 cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday, including 2,455 people known to have the virus right now, and 387 who have died.

There have been 159,929 doses of vaccine administered to date, leaving nearly 31 per cent of residents with a first shot and 2.5 per cent with both.