Students from Binghamton University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences are helping to battle the COVID-19 pandemic by working at COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
As New York state allows individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, BU’s own students have stepped up as frontline workers to help the cause. Students who are in their second, third and fourth year of pharmacy school have all completed the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) immunization certification necessary to vaccinate patients, allowing approximately 225 BU students to vaccinate the public. Around 125 of those students are working or volunteering their time to protect individuals from the pandemic.
Anna Fink, a second-year graduate student studying pharmaceutical sciences, is one of these students. Fink said her experience working in the clinics has been monumental for her personally and professionally.
“It’s been humbling,” Fink said. “At first I was excited and nervous just to be practicing the new skills we’ve learned through our curriculum. It took some time to realize what a big deal it is, both for the profession as a whole and as an individual. Realizing that you’re truly living in history and that this is something we’ll tell our children and grandchildren about one day, is amazing.”
In a typical shift, students will administer vaccinations, draw up doses and handle paperwork, providing students with the complete experience of how a clinic operates. The hands-on experience allows the participating students to acquire skills that cannot always be taught in the classroom.
“Aside from understanding what an important event this will be in history, I’m very grateful to learn how these operations work,” Fink said. “In school, we learn all of the details about the vaccinations we give, techniques for giving them and the important questions to ask, but it’s difficult to teach how a vaccination clinic like this runs. I got to experience each part of the process, checking people in, drawing up doses and administering the vaccine. I learned about the paperwork that we need to have on hand, what kind of supplies we should keep stocked closely and in general, how to be organized while running a clinic.”
Fink has worked at both United Health Services (UHS) Wilson Medical Center and UHS Binghamton General Hospital, but students have had opportunities in multiple different facilities, such as retail pharmacies and state-run vaccination clinics. Some of these positions are paid, but many choose to volunteer.
Rachael Perry, assistant dean for enrollment management and student affairs at the pharmacy school, said an increasing number of opportunities at multiple locations are becoming available to students.
“It seems that every week we are contacted by a community pharmacy chain, hospital or vaccine clinic that is looking for students to help with vaccine administration,” Perry said. “All of these opportunities are shared with students as they become available. Some locations are looking to hire pharmacy interns while others are seeking volunteers.”
Sarah Lynch, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice and director of skills education, has been working on the frontlines as well at the Broome County Health Department vaccination site at Broome Community College. She will also be administering vaccines at her clinical practice site at Wegman’s in Johnson City.
Lynch said her students are gaining valuable experience from participating in the clinics.
“This is a truly historical event, and getting to see our students assist in the efforts is so rewarding,” Lynch wrote in an email. “They are seeing firsthand that they can make a really important impact with their skills, whether it is administering vaccines or educating people about them. It’s also been a unique experience to have information changing on a daily basis and having to stay up on that information — I’ve talked to a few of them, and they are becoming so comfortable reading and interpreting new literature and guidelines and then immediately putting it into practice. Those skills will be so important to them as practicing pharmacists.”
As vaccines become increasingly available, Peyton Woloszyn, a third-year graduate student studying pharmaceutical sciences, hopes the public will be patient and get vaccinated as soon as they are able to.
“I want others to know that the vaccination sites are doing what they can to meet the high demands for the vaccine,” Woloszyn said. “We have to follow necessary distribution protocols at this time and that can be frustrating because so many people would like to receive it that are having trouble understanding why they can’t. Just have hope — we are on our way to getting everyone vaccinated and the time will come. I think it is important to put out there that although this vaccine is new, this vaccine technology is not. Necessary study has been performed. The vaccine received adequate funding to move it forward in a timely manner to help our country. If you have any questions, pharmacists are an excellent resource!”