2020 Grad Helps Get the Vaccine Out

Starting a health care career in the middle of an ongoing pandemic is a roller coaster of thoughts, feelings and emotions. When she started her career in early 2021 as a contact tracer-case investigator, Ashley Slack ’20 figured she’d spend her workdays centered on stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

But then her bosses at the LaSalle County (Ill.) Health Department in Ottawa asked her to switch to the vaccine side and stop the spread in a different way — as a COVID-19 vaccine program assistant.

With three vaccines and people clamoring for an appointment, Slack is in the middle of things.

“There are changes from day to day as far as vaccine eligibility for individuals, vaccine allotment, quarantine and isolation guidelines, etc.,” she said. “One of the biggest things I’ve experienced is the huge number of people who are interested in the vaccine … but we only have so much vaccine each week to distribute.”

Clinics can experience “hiccups,” Slack said. But she added there haven’t been the problems seen in other parts of the country.

“I did expect it to be kind of hectic or chaotic at times being we’re still in a pandemic and rolling out a vaccine in mass distribution. As for at the clinics, everyone is almost always so appreciative and commenting on the smooth process.”

The public health education major’s positive experience as a health department intern the summer before becoming an employee led her to apply after graduation. In addition to helping others, she noted the convenience of its location in her hometown. “I could live at home for the time being and not commute very far.”

Her youngest brother’s months of treatment at OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria cemented her desire to work in health care at age 7.

“I loved the atmosphere of taking care of others,” Slack said.

Originally a nursing major, Slack said graduating during a global pandemic was an experience but she appreciates the preparation she received, noting the “flexible, reassuring and accommodating” professors. She was involved in Epsilon Sigma Alpha service sorority but her work commitments now limit her time and makes her schedule unpredictable.

“I really like that I am always busy with something — whether it’s phone calls, planning for the clinics or running them, it makes the days go by fast,” she said. “Providing the vaccine for others makes for a step in the right direction and going back to normalcy.”