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Pitt Vaccine Team Marches On

When Melissa McGivney heard that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was considering authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12-15, she sprang into action. 

Only days later, on Thursday, May 13, Pitt had a fully operational children’s clinic, complete with child-appropriate education, smaller needles for smaller arms just in case (they weren’t needed), buckets of candy and a guest appearance by Roc. This was just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended providers begin using the Pfizer vaccine in this age range, having found it to be safe and effective. 

McGivney serves as the associate dean for community partnerships and professor of pharmacy and therapeutics in Pitt’s School of Pharmacy. In this role, she has helped lead the PittCoVax initiative since January 2021, which has, as of this writing, directly provided more than 20,000 shots at 37 clinics for Pitt people and the greater community. 

Your shot

Both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are widely available throughout the summer at the Pittsburgh campus. Friendly clinic staff are always available to answer vaccination questions onsite at Nordenberg Hall on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

Pitt’s University Pharmacy is actually part of the reason McGivney and the PittCoVax team were able to set up a children’s clinic so quickly. 

“We had Pfizer vaccine on hand and ready to go when the news came that it was opening up to 12-15 year olds,” said Patrick Pugliese, who manages the University Pharmacy. 

The University Pharmacy is one of thousands of independent pharmacies eligible to receive doses of vaccine through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program (FRPP), which expanded in March to reach smaller pharmacies supporting their local communities. These smaller pharmacies generally are not able to store vast quantities of vaccine at ultracold temperatures. 

But, Pitt did have the space—plus five ultracold freezers—and could serve as an intermediary distribution site for independent pharmacies in the region, which meant vaccine could reach communities with less access. As part of this hub and spoke model, the FRPP allowed storage sites like Pitt to keep 10% of the vaccine allotment for themselves. 

“This is a real moment for pharmacists to lead interprofessional teams,” said Chris O’Donnell, chief operating officer of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office. More than 900 students, staff and faculty from all six schools of the health sciences, as well as the larger Pitt campus, have all contributed to the success of PittCoVax, but “Pitt Pharmacy is the beating heart of the program,” O’Donnell said.  

At the children’s clinic, one patient remarked, “There must be so many logistics involved.”

“There are logistics, but we’re happy to do it,” replied Kate Brownlee, project manager of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office.

The kid’s clinic was special for Brownlee because her own children had gone to the Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School, which is affiliated with Pitt, and in the afternoon, a number of Falk teachers and parents came to the clinic. “It was like a little Falk School reunion,” she said. 

McGivney jokes that her son Joey thinks her job is just to be on the phone all day. But, he got to see her in action last week. He even got a shot in the arm from his mom. 

In another of the six vaccination stations in Nordenberg Hall on Thursday, pharmacist and clinic manager Denise Sokos said goodbye to one patient and peeked around the corner of her cube to see who was next in line. “They’re my neighbors!” Sokos said, pointing to a mother and daughter. “Come on over, I’ll take care of you.” 

For McGivney, the day was symbolic. 

“People were telling me they felt really safe and proud bringing their families here to Pitt. It literally takes everyone when you vaccinate the kids and a whole other level of energy. We all take a lot of pride that parents and patients with questions around vaccination felt comfortable coming to our space and welcomed at our clinic.”

The mass-vaccination site up the hill at the Petersen Events Center this week celebrated its final clinic. Moving forward, Pitt vaccine clinics will run at Nordenberg Hall all through the summer on Wednesdays and Thursdays, offering Pfizer to 12-15 year olds as well as adults, and Moderna to anyone 18 or over. 

On a normal day, McGivney in her white lab coat might be tending to administrative needs, but on Thursday, “I just couldn’t help myself,” she said. She had to join the fun in caring for patients. 

“It’s for the kids but we all need this. It’s going to get them safely back to school in the fall, to camp this summer. It’s hope again.”