Volunteers scheduled to work at the Golden Gate Fields vaccination site were informed via an email March 11 that the site would no longer be utilizing volunteers due to liability fears surrounding the risk of medical malpractice and injury.
The location itself is overseen by Curative Inc., and until the announcement in early March, its operations involved a large team of volunteers, according to Jerry Hsu, director of the Berkeley Medical Reserve Corps, or BMRC.
“We [BMRC] trained 34 EMTs to provide vaccines and deployed 23 of them to the site to work alongside Curative’s employees,” Hsu said. “As Curative employed more and more people to work at the site, the city of Berkeley and Curative could not come to an agreement on how to have volunteers at the site while meeting Curative’s liability concerns.”
The site, which started as a joint effort between the Berkeley Fire Department, Berkeley Public Health and Curative, began administering vaccines Feb. 5, Hsu added.
According to an email that volunteer Bella Bonvino provided to The Daily Californian, the number of vaccinations provided by the site rose from 340 per day to as many as 1,570, and nearly half the staff was comprised of volunteers until recently.
“We got an email just saying that Curative was struggling to fit the volunteers in the liability model,” said Crystal Cho, BMRC deputy director of public health programs. “Still, it was so great to participate in the vaccination efforts in the beginning, and I’m happy I got to do it at all. I definitely took a lot away.”
Despite no longer being able to volunteer at the vaccination site, Cho said being a part of the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic was “really fulfilling.”
Bonvino, who also serves as BMRC’s public information officer, echoed these sentiments. According to Bonvino, being able to administer the vaccines was a “rewarding experience,” and regardless of whether or not volunteers are allowed at the site, it is most important that the community goal continues to be met.
“We hope that in the near future we will find a successful path forward with Curative that will allow volunteers to continue to contribute to the vaccination effort,” said Maia Small, volunteer director, and Colin Arnold, Berkeley Fire Department captain of emergency medical services, in an email to volunteers.
After a two-day adjustment period following the absence of volunteers, vaccination numbers have returned to normal, according to Hsu.
According to Berkeley spokesperson Matthai Chakko, the site is providing roughly 1500 vaccines daily, five days a week, as a result of the combined efforts of the city and Curative. This adds up to the vaccinations of 6.25% of the Berkeley population every week.
“This historic and unprecedented effort is helping move the city and all of Alameda County forward on a critical piece of fighting the pandemic,” Chakko said in an email.