Photo courtesy: S.C. DHEC

Catherine Cutone retired from the healthcare field after a 43-year career, right before the pandemic hit. Now, she works as a volunteer nurse at a drive-in vaccination site in Wilmington, North Carolina, administering 100 vaccines per day.

“I have given more vaccines in the short two months I have been volunteering than I did in my entire career,” she said.

Cutone moved to North Carolina after retiring from a nursing supervisor position in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Once the pandemic hit, she said she immediately wanted to do something to help.

“I was ready to go back to New Jersey to help volunteer in the hospitals, but then I saw advertisements down here for volunteer nurses to help administer the vaccine, so I applied to do that,” she said.

Cutone went through the process of applying for a nursing license in North Carolina, which is one of the requirements for volunteer nurses. She also had to pass a background check and attend an orientation, learning about the vaccine and how to educate patients coming through the drive-in site. 

Because her site administers vaccines to 1,000 to 1,400 patients per day, volunteers are essential for operation. 

“They’re getting nurses from everywhere,” Cutone said. “Some nurses like me came out of retirement just to go and help vaccinate people. There are nurses from all different walks of life.” 

Cutone is just one of the many healthcare workers participating in the first drive-in vaccination sites in history. 

“We haven’t had a pandemic in 100 years,” she said. “Back then, we wouldn’t have had the sophistication to have even been able to do this drive-thru vaccination.” 

As someone who hasn’t worked as a bedside nurse for the last 25 years, Cutone said being back in the field is exciting. 

“You’re contributing to the good of the public health. So many people are so grateful and emotional about being vaccinated because they want to get back to their lives; they want to see their grandchildren and that kind of thing,” she said. “But many people are also very anxious and afraid since it’s such a new vaccine.”

Cutone touched on the vaccine hesitation she sees at her site. 

“In my era, we had vaccines for everything –mumps, measles, rubella, polio – things that have been eliminated from public health,” said Cutone. “This is, again, another situation where we need to try and eliminate this terrible virus that’s killing people.”

Post-pandemic, Cutone plans on looking into part-time work at a nursing home. She said administering vaccines made her realize that she doesn’t want to step away entirely from the field. 

“I want to keep my hands in healthcare because I enjoy it, being back at the bedside,” Cutone said. “It’s nice to stay within the healthcare field and talk to your colleagues and keep abreast as to what’s going on.”

Healthcare workers vaccinate patients at the drive-thru vaccination site at Brunswick County Community College in Wilmington, N.C. Photo courtesy: Catherine Cutone