Cornell junior distributes COVID-19 vaccine during internship

Cornell College junior Skye McCormick is getting a different perspective on the pandemic as she joins the front-line battle against COVID-19.

Skye McCormick holding the COVID-19 vaccine
Skye McCormick

The California native is putting her skills and education to use as she studies and distributes the COVID-19 vaccine during a Block 6 internship with her home health department, the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services. 

Cornellians study on the block plan, One Course At A Time for 3 ½ weeks, which means McCormick can pursue her internship full time without the pressure of keeping up with other courses.

“I can’t quite describe how I feel each day when I go to work this block,” McCormick said. “Some moments I am just going through the motions of getting the next person their shot, and then some moments it hits me that I am holding in my hand a life-changing drug. A brand new technology, a long-awaited hope for an end to this pandemic.”

After taking EMT classes in Iowa, McCormick received her EMT license in California during the summer before her sophomore year. In her county, this certification allows her to give the vaccine to patients. 

While spending time at home during winter break, she volunteered to help the local health department with vaccine distribution and knew she wanted to come back to play a bigger role. McCormick used her connections to secure this internship. 

“Experiences like this one won’t always be handed to you. If you see a need, look for a way to fill it. If you have an interest in something, go for it,” she said as a recommendation to her peers. “Cornell fosters that in all of us and it is then up to us to put that into action. One month ago I did not think that this would work out, but some advisors and professors at Cornell encouraged me to go for it anyway, and I am so grateful that I did.” 

During this internship, she administers about 60 doses each day of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. She also works on the administrative paperwork and connects with surrounding counties to see if they have effective vaccine distribution practices that her clinic should adopt. She says flexibility is vital because she’s often asked to shift to other positions within the clinic to keep up with the fast pace of the operation.

And a big part of her internship is research. 

Skye McCormick
Skye McCormick giving the COVID-19 vaccine to a patient

Associate Director of the Dimensions Program for Health Professions Mark Kendall helped her brainstorm and design the research component of the internship and apply for funding to support her expenses while off campus, which she received.

“A lot of our students are mobilizing and finding various ways in which they can be helpful during this pandemic,” Kendall said. “I think Skye is a perfect example of that. While she is helping to directly administer vaccines, she is also researching the process and flow of makeshift clinics like the one she’s working in, optimizing vaccinations, ensuring patient safety, and communicating information with patients.”

The Dimensions program helps Cornell College students interested in healthcare careers on many levels, from one-on-one mentoring to applying to med school or other professional and graduate programs. They also support and fund internships, like this one. 

This internship opportunity is just the most recent step McCormick has taken to study COVID-19. Early on, she performed the role of teaching assistant for the Science of COVID-19 class taught by Professor of Biology Barbara Christie-Pope in March of 2020. The biochemistry and molecular biology (BMB) and psychology double major also participated in the online Cornell Summer Research Institute last summer to study virus testing and tracking options for campus.

“Up to this point, I, like everyone else, have only been able to play catch up with this virus and try to minimize the damage done,” McCormick said. “Finally, with the emergence of these vaccines, there is a real hope for getting ahead of the virus and ending the pandemic. My goal and hope is just that I get to play a small role in ending this pandemic.” 

McCormick says she is lucky to have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine and hopes others take advantage of opportunities to get vaccinated in the future.

“Keep wearing your mask. Keep social distancing,” McCormick said. “When you can get a vaccine, please take it. This is a historic moment. I see every dose I give as an honor and a privilege, and I hope you will too.”

After her time at Cornell, McCormick plans to attend medical school. This internship has also inspired her to consider pursuing a Master’s of Public Health.