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  • Department of Pediatrics
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Health Sciences Students and Faculty Join Forces to Support Vaccination Clinic

After walking through Thursday’s swirling snow flurries and wind, Alexis Rigel entered the Petersen Events Center for what she called “a monumental step forward” in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rigel, a licensed professional nursing student at Pittsburgh Technical College, was on the University of Pittsburgh campus for a COVID-19 vaccine, courtesy of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD). “People have been complaining about the lack of solutions to this virus, and now we have one,” she said. “I say why not try this one?”

Rigel was among the 800 patient-facing students and personnel from the Pittsburgh region who received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 28-29 as part of an ACHD vaccination clinic. The vaccine recipients, all scheduled by appointment based on ACHD’s current prioritization policy, were from Chatham University, the Community College of Allegheny County, Duquesne University, LaRoche University, Pittsburgh Technical College and Pitt.

Teamwork in two and a half weeks

The event, part of the ACHD’s vaccination plan for people in Pennsylvania’s Phase 1A priority group, was staffed by about 60 volunteer staff, faculty and students from across Pitt’s schools of the health sciences. This interdisciplinary collaboration on behalf of the community included physicians, pharmacists, nurses, emergency medicine service personnel and physician assistants.

“This clinic has drawn people together in an incredible way,” said Melissa A. McGivney, associate dean for community partnerships for Pitt’s School of Pharmacy, which played a leading role in coordinating the clinic. “Pitt has the expertise and capacity that enabled us to plan this two-day clinic in just two and a half weeks and serve our community during a critical time in this pandemic.”

She added: “This event is really about education and celebrating science,” as she credited the support and collaboration of Debra L. Bogen, director of ACHD, and Kristen J. Mertz, ACHD’s medical epidemiologist. Bogen is also a professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and clinical and translational sciences in Pitt’s School of Medicine. Mertz is an adjunct assistant professor of epidemiology in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health.

Take that, COVID-19

The clinic was arranged with five vaccine stations throughout the concourse level of the Pete. Each station was managed by a pharmacist from Pitt Pharmacy. Emergency personnel were also on hand in case vaccine recipients experienced adverse effects. Pitt Information Technology also helped with digital information gathering.

Vaccine recipient Heather Opfar, a nursing student at the Community College of Allegheny County, said the pros far outweighed the cons as she decided to make her appointment.

“I felt confident in my situation. It’s my duty to protect my patients and slow, or even stop, the spread of the virus,” she said. “That way, we can build herd immunity and hopefully return to living normal lives.”

The clinic also included COVID-19 vaccine-related information and selfie backdrops for vaccine recipients to take photos with placards that read “Roc’n the Vaccine,” “Take THAT, COVID!” and “I’m Crushing COVID!” There also was information about receiving the second dose on Feb. 25. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests people age 18 years and older should receive two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at least 28 days apart.

“The first dose of the vaccine won’t provide immediate protection. The second dose is the booster shot that will further activate the body’s protection against COVID-19,” McGivney said. “It’s important for these recipients to keep themselves and other people safe by continuing social distancing practices.”

ACHD will contact recipients of the first dose to remind them to get their booster dose. Recipients are also encouraged to download the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention app V-safe on their phones to inform the CDC about any side effects that they may experience after vaccination.

Patient-facing students

The ACHD clinic also benefited from the help of Pitt health professional students in nursing, pharmacy, medical and other health care-related fields, who assisted with vaccine distribution and administration. One such student was Seana Armstrong, a fourth-year student at Pitt’s School of Pharmacy who administered vaccines at the Pete as well as at UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC’s South Side COVID-19 clinic.

“Pitt Pharmacy has given me the opportunity to grow as a professional,” she said. “I feel confident now to be on the front lines. No matter what aspect in health you work for, vaccines will be a big part of a medical career.”

McGivney added: “We’ve shown our personnel how to put this experience onto their resumes. We will remain committed to this cause as long as the vaccine is available.”