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UMass Chan Medical School launched Vaccine Corps, backed by philanthropy, to support statewide vaccine rollout

Philanthropic donations totaling $435,000 were raised in early 2021 to support the Vaccine Corps launched by UMass Chan Medical School*, the statewide initiative that recruited and deployed volunteers to accelerate the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Massachusetts.

The Vaccine Corps began with Medical School faculty and students supporting the equitable distribution of vaccine to vulnerable populations and was expanded in partnership with ForHealth Consulting, the consulting and operations division of the Medical School. More than 7,200 volunteers registered through the Vaccine Corps to volunteer at vaccination sites in a variety of roles. Trained and licensed volunteers and medical and nursing students were eligible to administer vaccines and perform other clinical duties. Unlicensed individuals and community members were eligible to volunteer for administrative roles such as greeters and customer service assistants. 

“Wherever the greatest need exists is where we want to be helpful,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins in February 2021. “The Vaccine Corps will prioritize providing volunteers to sites that address health equity by inoculating vulnerable populations that are eligible according to the state’s guidelines. A pilot effort began in January [2021] when hundreds of Medical School students, working under the direction of Worcester’s Division of Public Health, helped vaccinate first responders and residents of homeless shelters.”

Support of the efforts was led by a $200,000 gift from the Woburn-based Cummings Foundation that the Medical School was challenged to match. In response, the leadership and board of directors of the United Way of Central Massachusetts approved a six-figure donation. Generous contributions were also received from the Frias family/S&F Concrete, The Kraft Group, the Tsotsis family, the Melvin S. Cutler Charitable Foundation and the DuFour family.

Donations were used to facilitate the development of project management tools, the design of a comprehensive staffing resource and allocation plan, and community outreach and education initiatives.

Bill Cummings and his wife Joyce founded Cummings Foundation and its New Horizons assisted living communities in Marlborough and Woburn. Cummings said in early 2021, “Although our senior living communities have fared remarkably well, the experience of serving this vulnerable population throughout the pandemic made us especially motivated to support efforts to expedite vaccine distribution. UMass Chan Medical School’s Vaccine Corps proposal demonstrated innovative thinking and a sense of urgency. We were delighted to contribute to an effort that would accelerate the immunization timeline and help safeguard Massachusetts residents.”

“Great ideas demand strong and swift support,” said Tim Garvin, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Massachusetts. “Within a matter of hours after hearing about this concept, we enthusiastically offered our support as a way to help more of our neighbors get vaccinated and protected from COVID-19 as soon as possible.”

“The Medical School could not be more grateful to Cummings Foundation, the United Way of Central Massachusetts, the Frias family, The Kraft Group and all of the benefactors who offered their support,” said Chancellor Collins. “Once again, hundreds of our nursing, medical and graduate students demonstrated their willingness to answer the call of public service and offer their time, expertise and energy to join a cause larger than themselves. The Vaccine Corps has been an important and effective component of our country’s unprecedented effort to protect Americans and end the pandemic.”

The concept of the Vaccine Corps was initially outlined in a Boston Globe opinion column authored by Collins and UMass President Marty Meehan. The Vaccine Corps provides people with an opportunity to serve their communities during the historic effort to end the pandemic, while offering public health leaders the opportunity to leverage an untapped reservoir of talent, energy and selflessness.

*As of Sept. 7, 2021, which is in the FY22 fiscal year, UMass Chan Medical School is now UMass Chan Medical School thanks to a transformational gift.