St. Luke’s Student Nurses Help Make History Giving COVID Vaccine

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St. Luke’s University Health Network has recruited enthusiastic and capable nursing students from area schools to make history as COVID-19 vaccinators in their communities.

Since December, some 85 trainees for the world’s most trusted profession have stepped forward to help control what could be the most lethal and widespread medical crisis they’ll ever face: this pandemic.

They have injected people at free clinics throughout the St. Luke’s network, making a difference even before finishing their formal education. They’re enrolled in the area’s nursing programs, including those at St. Luke’s School of Nursing, Northampton Community College, Lehigh County Community College, Moravian College, Cedar Crest College and DeSales University. And their satisfaction in being part of this massive public health effort is as evident in their enthusiasm as it is in the gratitude they receive from the people they have vaccinated.

Here are two of their stories:

Maritza Muniz, a first-year nursing student at St. Luke’s School of Nursing, gave her first injection ever just last month at the COVID vaccination clinic at St. Luke’s Bethlehem campus.

“I’m honored to do this, feeling really good about it,” said the Allentown resident, who, unlike most of her fellow students is in her 40s.

In February, she helped the network provide around 200 vaccinations at the Hispanic Center in Bethlehem, using her fluent Spanish language skills to communicate with the shot recipients and center staff.

Helping to control this lethal virus–which has claimed more than 500,000 American lives–will be part of her personal history, she said.

Nursing Student Maritza Muniz

Credit: St. Luke's University Health Network

St. Luke’s nursing student Maritza Muniz, 41, said she is concerned about her mother in Puerto Rico, where a serious outbreak of COVID-19 is ravaging the island.

“I want to tell my grandkids that I was part of this change during the pandemic,” she said proudly. Though the 41-year-old wife and mother was a bit shy about joining the mostly 20-something fellow nursing students giving vaccinations, she said she “feels part of the younger group.”

Muniz recently completed her first semester at St. Luke’s School of Nursing and said serving people is an important part of her life. She has traveled as a medical missionary to Guatemala and, in 2019, to Kenya in East Africa.

“I love being able to help people anywhere in the world who need it,” she enthused.

Before nursing school, Muniz raised her son, now 23, and put him through college. She worked as a medical assistant, drawing blood at the Miller-Keystone Blood Bank for 14 years.

Born in Puerto Rico, Muniz has family on the island, where the virus is very bad, she said. Her mother lives there and she is concerned about her family getting access to the vaccine.

“I’m grateful being here,” she admitted, “but hope my mother gets the vaccine soon.”

Her role in the mass vaccination effort at St. Luke’s is extra special.

“This is personal,” Muniz said. “It’s my community.”

Kerlly Barba holds a small seashell with a happy face painted on it in the palm of her hand. It was a gift an elderly woman gave her after the nursing student injected her with the COVID vaccine.

“That was her way of thanking me,” said the 25-year-old Allentown resident, a St. Luke’s nursing student who will graduate in December.

Excitement and gratitude are shown widely by shot recipients at the vaccination clinics run by the network.

And the students are excited, too.

Nursing Student Kerlly Barba

Credit: St. Luke's University Health Network

St. Luke’s School of Nursing student Kerlly Barba, 25, vaccinates a patient at a hospital-run COVID vaccination clinic. Barba said access to the life-saving vaccine in the U.S. is more extensive than it is currently in her native Ecuador.

“It feels great!” said Barba, who gave shots at the recent Hispanic Center event and has been giving them at the clinic at St. Luke’s-Bethlehem since early January.

She compares the access to the vaccine in the U.S. with the scant supply in her native Ecuador, which she left seven years ago with her parents. While she’s pleased to be where she and her parents have access to advanced healthcare, she wishes Ecuador had better supplies to the vaccine.

“There’s a lot of death there from COVID,” she said. “We know how hard it is to get good healthcare in Ecuador, and to be part of this vaccination program is great.”

Barba said she had wanted to work in the medical field since she was young, first as a doctor, and later as a nurse. In this role, she enjoys getting to know her patients. Her next rotation in the program is in labor and delivery; a possible career specialty, she said, after having worked in a St. Luke’s OBGYN office as a medical assistant previously.

Looking ahead, Barba said she’s eager to return to the Hispanic Center in mid-March to help give vaccine booster shots to the people who got their first shot in mid-February.

But what would make her really smile, she said, would be giving the vaccination to her own parents.

“That would be so great!”

Note: This local health news is brought to you in partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network.

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