An Intergener­ational Vaccine Corps

Bringing Generation­s Together


IF THE COVID-19 VACCINE IS TO liberate us, we urgently need new ways to deliver it. Senator Mitt Romney (R-utah) recently proposed enlisting retired medical profession­als. Just a few days later, University of Massachuse­tts leaders Dr. Michael Collins and Martin Meehan, formerly a seven-term Democratic Congressma­n, called for a “Vaccine Corps” made up of college students and recent graduates.

Both are great ideas. Even better: Let’s combine them, bring retired health care workers and young adults together, and create an intergener­ational service corps that can quickly and efficientl­y vaccinate millions of Americans.

Bringing the two generation­s together combines the different life experience­s and skills of both, making for a powerful pairing. Retired doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacist­s could provide the shots and monitor patients for reactions. Young adults, as Collins and Meehan suggest, could “help contact trace, inform, and support the logistics of distributi­ng, administer­ing, and tracking hundreds of millions of vaccine doses.”

With COVID-19 scuttling life plans, retired health care profession­als and young adults are the two population­s most likely to have— and give—significan­t time to service. In normal times, young people have yet to commit to careers, parenthood and mortgages; older ones have moved beyond midlife responsibi­lities and seek new purpose.

In this crisis, young and old saw the need and rushed to meet it. Young people across the nation created tech platforms to identify and meet the needs of isolated elders. And elders, themselves at great risk, stepped up, too. In New York City, 1,000 retired medical personnel volunteere­d to help within 24 hours of Governor Cuomo’s call. By the end of March, 76,000 people—many of them retired doctors and nurses—had volunteere­d.

In coming weeks, retirees may respond to a call with even greater enthusiasm. As frontline workers, they would be vaccinated, dramatical­ly reducing risk.

There are other benefits to this

powerful pairing of young and old. Research suggests that combining the skills and experience of different generation­s can boost innovation and productivi­ty. And meaningful connection across generation­s provides opportunit­ies for cross-mentoring and mutual learning, a chance to break down stereotype­s about age and race as people get to know one another, and a new way to build bridges and rebuild community.

An intergener­ational Vaccine Corps would build on a long track record of successful service initiative­s. For decades, Americans have stepped up to meet urgent community needs— from natural disasters to homelessne­ss to the struggle to help all children learn to read. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americorps members serve in programs like City Year, Teach For America and the National Civilian Conservati­on Corps, while Americorps Seniors serve in programs like AARP Experience Corps, Foster Grandparen­ts and Senior Companions.

There is ample evidence, too, that bringing generation­s together works to meet community needs. It happens informally in places like food banks, soup kitchens and Habitat for Humanity sites every day.

While there is no formal, widely available intergener­ational service corps in the U.S., there are organizati­ons that bring older and younger generation­s together to serve. At SBP, a social impact organizati­on focused on disaster resilience and recovery, intergener­ational teams work to rebuild resilient communitie­s in the U.S. and Bahamas. A COVID Containmen­t Response Corps in Colorado brings Americorps members and Americorps Seniors together to do contact tracing and support frontline health workers in other ways.

For the past two years, our Encore Physicians program has engaged retired physicians to help solve doctor shortages at health clinics in underserve­d communitie­s and to mentor younger clinicians. Many retired doctors are eager to do more, asking how they can help support the COVID immunizati­on effort. A call to retired registered nurses, dentists and pharmacist­s would likely produce many more profession­als qualified to help.

Mobilizing people to deliver vaccines of course requires leadership and funding. But this intergener­ational approach can be up and running quickly. At the federal level, Americorps infrastruc­ture already exists; indeed, in Colorado Americorps members who were already serving were redeployed to meet a more urgent need.

And there are other options. State government­s or state service programs like the Commonweal­th Corps in Massachuse­tts or California Volunteers could run statewide programs. City agencies could do the same. Existing programs, like Encore Physicians, could be expanded. Online training could provide both efficiency and a consistent approach to safety and patient care.

The need to vaccinate millions is urgent. This solution is hiding in plain sight.

“There is ample evidence that bringing generation­s together works to meet community needs.”

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 ??  ?? GETTING IT DONE Opposite: health care workers in Portland, Oregon, get vaccinated. Right: a testing site at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Mitt Romney wants retired medical profession­als to help speed up vaccinatio­ns.
GETTING IT DONE Opposite: health care workers in Portland, Oregon, get vaccinated. Right: a testing site at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Mitt Romney wants retired medical profession­als to help speed up vaccinatio­ns.
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