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A shot of hope: Pharmacy students contribute to vaccination efforts

by Joe Selmont  |   

 

The COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a healthcare worker by a UAA/ISU Doctor of Pharmacy student.
The COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a healthcare worker by UAA/ISU Doctor of Pharmacy student Danny Teeples. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Students from the Doctor of Pharmacy Program, which is offered jointly by UAA and Idaho State University (ISU), understand the personal and historical significance of vaccinating Alaskans against COVID-19. This has left them feeling grateful and excited after they administered hundreds of vaccine doses to senior citizens.

Glimmer of hope

Talethia Bogart, who is a third-year student in the program, said, “A bunch of the people I vaccinated were very emotional, like this was the first glimmer of hope after such a difficult year for everyone. And it was very powerful to experience that with them. You know, we all want to become pharmacists to help people, to heal people, to make a difference. It just felt good.”Bogart and her peers — including first-year students Amity Winborg and Duane Wood, who also spoke with University Advancement for this story — have dispensed over 500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to over 250 individuals. The two vaccines currently authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both require two doses: the first dose creates an initial immune response and the second dose helps to ensure long-term protection.

Like Bogart, Winborg and Wood were also affected by their participation in the vaccine rollout. Winborg said, “To be part of something like this as a student, something so impactful for the world, is really meaningful.” Wood added, “It felt kind of like a holiday talking to people who were getting the vaccine. So many of them were absolutely overjoyed and could hardly believe it was really happening.”

A UAA/ISU Doctor of Pharmacy student prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
UAA/ISU Doctor of Pharmacy student Skylar Hunter prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Vaccine blitzes

The COVID-19 vaccine is not their first inoculation effort — not even close. Dr. Tom Wadsworth, associate professor and assistant dean of the Doctor of Pharmacy Program, said that new students immediately undergo a 20-hour, hands-on training to receive their immunization certificates.

“It’s pretty intense,” Wadsworth said. “But we expect our students to be able to go into the community and contribute to vaccination efforts right away. Every year, we’re talking about hundreds or even thousands of flu vaccines. Tdap vaccines, which immunize against tetanus and whooping cough in school kids. We already organize a lot of what we call ‘vaccine blitzes’ — where we deliver hundreds of vaccines, or more, in one go at health fairs or schools — so it made perfect sense for our students to step up with COVID, too.”

Wadsworth, who was instrumental in founding the UAA/ISU Doctor of Pharmacy Program, added that the role of pharmacists in vaccination is crucial. For many years, Alaska has suffered from a lack of pharmacists, especially in rural communities. But the program just graduated its first batch of students, who are much more likely than out-of-state pharmacists to stick in Alaska over the long term.

“There had been a longtime call to train pharmacists right here in Alaska,” he said. “In fact, we were the only state in the nation without a Pharm.D. program until we opened our doors in 2016.”

There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, one by Moderna and another by Pfizer. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Due to the shortage of pharmacists, many pharmacies and hospitals have been unable to operate at their full capacities. As an example, Wadsworth mentioned that some hospitals across the state have relied on outsourcing their night shifts to out-of-state pharmacists who work via telecommunication.

“To be honest, it’s not the most effective system. And now, thankfully, one of those hospitals is filling night shifts with one of our graduates,” he said. “Already, our impact is showing.”

Spirit of Alaska

For Bogart, Winborg and Wood, participating in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been a momentous experience, an affirming step on their journey to becoming full-fledged pharmacists. All three of them hope to put their Pharm.D. degrees to use in Alaska. Wood, for example, would like to return to his hometown of Klawock in Southeast Alaska or move to another rural community. But for now, they’re just happy to be a part of the team.

UAA/ISU Doctor of Pharmacy student Duane Wood checks in a vaccine recipient.
UAA/ISU Doctor of Pharmacy student Duane Wood checks in a vaccine recipient. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

“The feeling of community in our program is super strong,” Winborg said. “It’s like we’re one big family.” She added that the vaccination process hasn’t been without its difficulties, such as the complexities related to procuring and storing doses. “But I think it really speaks to the spirit of Alaska that we have persevered and worked together to solve these problems. No matter whether you’re a student, a pharmacist or anyone else — there are always opportunities to build up our community, there are always chances to do something more if we just look outside of ourselves.”

To this point, Bogart mentioned that there are now more people in Alaska who have received the vaccine than who have tested positive for COVID-19, and that our state is currently ranked number one in vaccinations per capita in the U.S.

And as more doses become available, the Pharm.D. students will continue to contribute to the effort. 

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