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Pharmacy students help deliver vaccinations

Image with caption: From left, College of Pharmacy students Sarah Stage, Kristin McLarty and Traver Pettijohn

From left, College of Pharmacy students Sarah Stage, Kristin McLarty and Traver Pettijohn

College of Pharmacy students are among those preparing and administering the first COVID-19 vaccinations to their fellow Nebraskans.

More than 40 UNMC pharmacy students have volunteered to be a part of Community Pharmacy Services' "Project HUG," an effort to immunize residents and patients at more than 140 skilled nursing, assisted living and independent living facilities across Nebraska and Iowa.

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Pharmacy student Hong Li mixes the vaccine.

The UNMC students have played a huge role in the eventual return to normal life for these elderly Nebraskans, said Mackenzie Farr, PharmD, chief operating officer of Community Pharmacy Services, and a UNMC College of Pharmacy alumnus herself.

"It's been so uplifting to see the difference everybody's making, and the students have been a huge part of it," Dr. Farr said.

"I get goose bumps talking about this stuff."

Student Ashley Bogus said it is especially satisfying to finally be able to make a difference during the pandemic.

"As students, it's been really hard to sit back since March," she said. "It's been hard to focus on classes when so much is going on. Now, we are able to do something about it, and show people what pharmacists can do."

Community Pharmacy Services, based out of Gretna, Nebraska, already had contracts to service the facilities, and were brought in by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state of Nebraska, to administer COVID-19 vaccines as well.

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Pharmacy student Colin Niemeyer gives a vaccination.

But that's "a huge lift," as Dr. Farr put it. Community Pharmacy's Wade Hoefer, PharmD, another COP alumnus, called Amy Pick, PharmD, assistant dean for experiential education in the college. And UNMC sent in the cavalry.

"Experiences matter," Dr. Pick said. "The ability for students to participate in this experience? It's overwhelming. It's tremendous."

The students also were ready, having run campuswide flu shot clinics for their fellow students during their annual Operation Immunization initiative.

"It's a partnership," said student Tori Cunning. "We were definitely the information relayers; it's a rapidly changing thing." Together, they coordinate that "each nursing home that needed a vaccine had adequate volunteers."

"We've learned a lot of flexibility," Bogus added. "We've had to pivot what we do, had to change our communication styles and our leadership styles."

The students also worked with each onsite supervising pharmacist to not only administer the shots, but prepare the doses. They use the Pfizer vaccine, which requires precise preparation and handling.

To in a sense come to the rescue for people during a pandemic can be emotional, Dr. Pick said.

"It's wonderful to see a sense of joy and hope in people," she said. "To see the residents have some hope in this COVID era."

Shots across the state

Second-, third- and fourth-year pharmacy students began giving COVID-19 vaccinations on the first day they were available to long term care facilities in Nebraska, Dec. 28. Since that day, UNMC College of Pharmacy students have assisted Community Pharmacy Services with immunizations across Nebraska, including Clarkson, Blair, Fremont, York, Lincoln, Auburn, Omaha, Aurora and North Platte.

Some students on winter break have helped out near their hometowns. All are required to have a negative COVID-19 test that week, and are offered vaccinations themselves. They wear full PPE, including face shields and gowns.

As of a count last week, they were part of an effort that has given out more than 13,000 vaccines, said Mackenzie Farr, PharmD, COO of Community Pharmacy Services. The next round, to deliver the second dose, is set to begin later this month.

The UNMC students' pharmacy education, and previous Operation Immunization experience, has been crucial.

College of Pharmacy faculty Amy Pick, PharmD, Ally Dering-Anderson, PharmD, and Kristen Cook, PharmD, have worked with more than 40 of their students in the effort.

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