University of Maine senior Emma Orton vaccinates Dr. Kari Nichols, a pathologist at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine

Hundreds of nursing students from Maine’s public universities are joining the effort to vaccinate Mainers against COVID-19 as the vaccine becomes more widely available to older residents.

Some 250 nursing students from the University of Maine System’s campuses in Orono, Fort Kent and Gorham will join health care workers at hospitals and vaccine clinics in their areas.

Nursing students from the University of Maine already administered vaccines to about 1,000 people before the spring semester’s start this week. Across the system, students will contribute approximately 3,000 volunteer hours to vaccination efforts this semester.

UMaine students started their volunteer work by administering vaccines to frontline health care workers in early January. When the vaccine became available to adults over age 70, the nursing program partnered with Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center and Penobscot Community Health Center, both in Bangor, in the vaccination effort.

Nursing students will be able to count their time on vaccinations as clinical hours that they need to graduate.

“I was frustrated by how COVID forced us to change our clinical experiences in the spring, costing us hands-on opportunities in hospitals,” said Emma Moulton, a senior at UMaine who has vaccinated about 50 health care workers. “Now we go into this semester with a chance to fight back, complete our clinical training and help end the pandemic.”

Throughout the spring semester, 108 seniors will volunteer their time and earn clinical credit for their work.

Kelley Strout, director of UMaine’s nursing program, said students have been eager to participate in vaccine efforts. Those receiving vaccines have not had any complaints about being inoculated by students.

“It’s taking a skill and a piece of curriculum that’s already required and making it into a very meaningful application,” she said.

Students at the University of Southern Maine will administer vaccines through clinics at Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick. Juniors from the Fort Kent campus will begin working at clinics in Fort Kent and Presque Isle.

The nursing students’ assistance in the vaccination effort won’t be the first time nursing students have contributed to Maine’s pandemic response. Last spring, in the early months of the pandemic, university nursing students temporarily joined the staffs of two nursing homes that had been hard hit by COVID-19 outbreaks and faced staffing shortages as a result.

The University of Maine last spring also allowed nursing students to graduate early so they could become licensed and start working more quickly as the state saw its first surge of virus cases.

Correction: An earlier version of the photo caption misidentified the student administering the vaccination.