Public Health Emergency - Leading a Nation Prepared
More than 300 Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units are assisting with COVID-19 vaccination efforts in 43 states, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Additional MRC units are preparing to activate to support vaccinations as more doses become available.
MRC is sponsored nationally by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the agency provides the MRC network with technical assistance, strategy and policy development, training, and other related services. The units are managed and deployed at the state, territorial or local level, often by local health departments and emergency management agencies.
“The support of MRC volunteers continues to be an essential part of the effort to expand access to vaccinations,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Nikki Bratcher-Bowman. “Many of these incredible volunteers have been responding to COVID-19 non-stop over the last year. And when vaccines became available in December, they stepped up even more. It’s been very meaningful to the entire public health and healthcare community.”
MRC volunteers include medical and public health professionals – including doctors, nurses, EMTs, pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians – as well as other community members without healthcare backgrounds who assist with logistics and administrative tasks. Non-medical volunteers are assisting with operations and administrative support, such as setting up appointments, filling out paperwork and entering data, and directing traffic at each vaccination site. MRC volunteers with a medical background are assisting with patient screening, vaccine administration, monitoring for adverse reactions, exit counseling, and behavioral health.
“MRC units started training for COVID-19 vaccination campaigns years ago, recognizing that any pandemic, major disease outbreak, or even a terrorist attack could create a need for mass dispensing of treatments or vaccines,” National MRC Program Director Esmeralda Pereira explained. “Some used this year’s annual flu vaccination clinics as exercises to plan for COVID-19 vaccine missions, practicing drive-through operations and implementing social distancing guidelines. I am inspired to see MRC units throughout the nation step up to the front lines to protect the health and safety of their communities. They are the shining example, representing the value, impact, and selflessness of volunteer service.”
While COVID-19 vaccination is a focus of current MRC activities, units have and continue to support other COVID-19 operations. In 2020, MRC volunteers contributed more than 800,000 volunteer hours assisting with community screening and testing operations; medical surge support at long term care facilities, health care facilities, and alternate care sites; patient case and contact investigations; call center operations; community education and outreach such as assisting elderly and at-risk community members with well check calls, food distribution, errands, medication pick-up; and logistics support such as inventorying, packing, and distributing personal protective equipment.
In November, MRC units also supported efforts related to infection control at election polling stations such as ensuring proper sanitation methods, proper use of personal protective equipment, and maintaining social distancing.
The signing of the
American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 last week underscores the importance of MRCs to our nation’s health security. The legislation provides $100 million in funding for MRC at a time when MRC numbers are growing. Since January 2020, at least 25,000 volunteers have been added to the network’s ranks, bringing the total number of volunteers in MRC units to approximately 200,000 people throughout the United States and its territories. “This is exciting news for the program and a testament to the value of the network’s hard work and impact in communities across the country,” said Pereira.
The MRC was created shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, to establish local units of medical and non-medical volunteers capable of supporting public health needs in communities and to assist in responding rapidly to disasters and public health emergencies in their communities. MRC units engage these volunteers to strengthen public health, improve emergency response capabilities, and build community resiliency.
volunteer with an MRC unit and learn more about the program, please visit
For more information about national and state level activities of MRC units, download the “Medical Reserve Corps FY 2020 Highlights Reports.”
*Photos of MRC volunteers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
are available on Flickr.
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