Extraoral Dentistry: My Experience as a COVID-19 Vaccine Volunteer
By: Becky Bye, DDS, JD
When the pandemic began, I explored ways to use my background as a healthcare provider to help with global efforts to eradicate this virus. I especially believed that dentists—with their constant exposure to aerosols and unique understanding of infectious diseases—were in a particularly prescient position.
Although I am a licensed dentist, my primary career no longer lies in the clinical practice of dentistry, but rather, the practice of law. As a lawyer in the health and life sciences sector, I am fascinated by the impact of COVID-19 from a health law perspective; I closely follow legal developments related to this pandemic, especially those applicable to healthcare and healthcare providers.
Earlier this year, I was thrilled when Colorado expanded the scope of authorized procedures for dentists, allowing them to aid in the mass vaccination efforts. On January 7, 2021, Governor Jared Polis signed Executive Order D 2021 008; he directed the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) “to promulgate and issue temporary emergency rules” to allow certain licensed healthcare providers to treat patients for procedures “including but not limited to providing the COVID-19 vaccine.” In addition to dentists, these temporary rules apply to chiropractors, podiatrists, optometrists, veterinarians, and other healthcare providers who would not typically administer a COVID-19 vaccine.
After I learned about this Executive Order, I researched potential volunteer opportunities. I found that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) uses a website called the “Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer,” where healthcare volunteers can register, input credential information, and take classes to qualify for future volunteer events. Upon successful completion of a background check, the CDPHE will add you to an email list and notify you of vaccination opportunities as they arise.
Within a few days of submitting my information, my registration was approved. Soon thereafter, I volunteered at a public vaccination site located in a church parking lot close to my home. The week prior to my first vaccine experience, I educated myself about proper intramuscular vaccine administration and other vaccine protocols through informational videos on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Admittedly, on the day the vaccination event, I was nervous. Despite my experience giving many intraoral injections that required precision and a steady hand in the confined, intricate oral cavity, and combatting other obstacles such as overactive tongues, this type of injection was still very new to me.
I arrived at the location early, allowing time to meet other volunteers and CDPHE personnel. Among the healthcare providers, I met registered nurses, physicians, and an oral surgeon. The CDPHE staff assigned each licensed healthcare provider to their own “table”, complete with PPE, gauze, alcohol wipes, and band-aids. We also spent time before the event prefilling the syringes with the vaccine.
It is difficult to describe my overwhelming feelings of relief, excitement, and sorrow when I first laid eyes on the vaccine vials, boldly labeled with the mundane words: “Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.” Those small vials are symbolic of humanity’s global, interdisciplinary, year-long concerted effort to reclaim our lives from this microbial phenomenon.
After filling the syringes and returning to my designated table, the vaccination clinic officially commenced. Some volunteers were stationed at the parking lot entrance to provide health forms and questionnaires to our would-be patients, and others helped with logistics and the flow of cars.
My first patient of the day was an elderly woman on the passenger side of an SUV. I chatted with her and reviewed her health history before nervously, yet firmly, injecting the vaccine into her right upper arm. To my pleasant surprise, she did not grimace and made a comment along the lines of not feeling anything.
During the remainder of the day, I became increasingly confident with my vaccine injection skills and was more at ease with my patients. I met dozens of people—all elderly—from my community. Many spoke of missing their friends, children, grandchildren and loved ones. During the injections, I observed most of my patients displaying a peaceful expression of relief, relief that this injection marked the beginning of the end. The beginning of the end!
As a fun, unexpected surprise, Governor Polis visited our vaccine site to thank volunteers, speak with patients, and observe the process. I thanked him for his Executive Order, which allowed me to serve that day; in response, he expressed his gratitude for the healthcare professionals helping with this effort.
While many have discussed the “silver linings” that resulted from this pandemic, such as a greater appreciation of friends and family, the dental profession might receive another benefit. While many states have implemented the expanded emergency rules to allow more people to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, it is possible that this will pave the way for similar permanent rules, expanding our scope of practice. Many in the dental community have long-advocated for the ability of dentists to provide other vaccines, such as influenza, or perform extraoral procedures that technically fall outside the definition of dentistry but are still squarely within our skillset as doctors and surgeons.
I plan to volunteer at more locations until COVID-19 is obsolete from our regular vocabulary. If you are thinking about volunteering, I assure you that it is beyond worth it. Besides serving a vital role in this historic pandemic, the interactions you have as a volunteer are priceless.
Dr. Becky Bye is both a licensed attorney and licensed dentist, and practices health, life sciences and technology law. She also volunteers as a clinician. In dental school, she was elected President of the Colorado Chapter of the American Student Dental Association and served on the board for her student chapter of Alpha Omega. After graduating and practicing general dentistry in the Denver metropolitan area, Dr. Bye merged her passion for law and the health sciences as a health law attorney. She currently devotes most of her time to a global non-profit playing a large role in this pandemic. She is a proud mom of a young son and a cat. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, British costume dramas, and anything that involves her undergraduate alma mater, Colgate University. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.