Students, faculty, and preceptors from the College of Pharmacy stepped up to assist in delivering hundreds of flu vaccines during a university-wide student flu clinic organized by University of Arizona Campus Health. Volunteer students from the Colleges of Pharmacy and Nursing administered almost 1,000 doses of influenza vaccine over the course of five days in late October.
UArizona Campus Health, along with other public health officials has been heavily advocating for individuals to get their flu shot this year as an additional respiratory illness on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to overburden the health care system, strain testing capacity, and increase the risk of catching both diseases at once. The CDC has estimated that there have been as many as 45 million flu-related illnesses and 61,000 flu-related deaths since 2010. Knowing that a large majority of these illnesses could have been avoided through vaccination, medical professionals continue to push their administration year-in and year-out.
In an effort to make the flu vaccine more accessible to students this year, UArizona Campus Health proposed hosting two simultaneous week-long flu shot clinics held at North Rec and the Student Union followed by additional clinics for off-campus students in partnership with the Pima County Health Department. The clinics were set up alongside the already established on-campus COVID-19 testing centers making it convenient for students to complete both tasks at once. When Campus Health was looking for trained individuals to staff these flu clinics, College of Pharmacy students answered the call.
“Our group felt an obligation to do this and do it well,” said Daniel Tellez, a P2 and volunteer Patient Education Cooridnator with the college. “For one, when another university organization like Campus Health reaches out for help, you always want to do everything you can to help them. We also knew there was an obligation to our student peers. The combination of flu and COVID-19 is scary, and with cases on the rise it is important to do everything that we can to protect our community.”
In a matter of days, Tellez, along with a group of fellow student coordinators, mobilized more than 60 student pharmacists to volunteer their time and skills as trained immunizers to participate in the clinic. Local pharmacy and nursing preceptors also volunteered to supervised students, and campus health organizers were continuously available to offer student immunizers further guidance and encouragement.
“With planning you can really get it done, but it requires many people who are able to provide the response,” explained Theodore Tong, PharmD, R. Ken Coit Endowed Chair and special advisory to the UArizona Reentry Incident Management Team and member of the UArizona COVID-19 vaccine group. “Obviously, the students played a major role because the delivery of the vaccine was the key piece, and our students were well-prepared and willing, but I also hope our students saw the amount of planning campus health had to put in in order to make this all work.”
In the U.S. there are an estimated 13 billion pharmacy visits each year. Frequent interaction with the general public has placed community pharmacists at the center of public health initiatives, including vaccinations. In all 50 states pharmacists are authorized to administer vaccines such as seasonal influenza. In the 20 years since being granted the authority to administer vaccines, pharmacists have already seen significant success in increasing access to this vital health care service. During the pandemic, this service becomes even more important as a risk reduction measure.
“Many people may not have a deep understanding of what pharmacists are capable of, and this was a terrific exercise in showing the public just that,” noted Tellez. “Pharmacists continue to be the most approachable healthcare position there is, and the more we as student-pharmacists can be out in public and show off our utility, the better care our patients can receive.”
“I think the positive thing was that the student immunizers were able to see how warmly they were received by their peers. It helped them realize that they have a skill set and a knowledge base that is valued,” emphasized Dr. Tong.
In September, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) authorized state-licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 vaccinations once available to patients aged 3 years and older, an action that further recognizes the vital role pharmacists play in the nation's response to this pandemic.
“It’s going to be a challenge, because there are going to be different issues with the COVID vaccination,” noted Dr. Tong. “There has to be a trust piece with the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Clarity and transparency in both communciation and action all has to be part of that roll out. Pharmacists have a key piece in communicating that.”
During this uncertain time, pharmacists across the globe are critically important to helping the public remain safe, healthy, and informed. Their expertise in medication plays an increasingly important role in our healthcare systems and pharmaceutical researchers are on the forefront of drug discovery research with the hopes of finding a cure. They’re making a difference every day whether from behind a counter, at the bedside, or in the lab.
“As our students gain more experience they will continue to step up. That’s always been a quality of many pharmacists and it’s not something that is taught, it’s just who we are,” said Dr. Tong.