UNIVERSITY of WISCONSIN–MADISON: Pharmacy students meet urgent need for vaccinators in Wisconsin

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Through training, volunteerism and clinical rotations, the School of Pharmacy and its PharmD students meet an urgent need for COVID-19 vaccinators across Wisconsin.

“Right now, this is a huge public health priority, and we really need all hands on deck,” says Maggie Hoernke, a third-year PharmD student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy.

With second-year PharmD student Nikki Batterman, she has been recruiting and organizing student pharmacist volunteers to pitch in with the nationwide effort to roll out the newly approved vaccines for COVID-19.

Person inserting needle into patient’s arm
Fourth-year PharmD student Eric Eitel delivers the first COVID-19 vaccine administered at Good Value Pharmacy in Racine during his clinical rotation. UW-MADISON SCHOOL OF PHARMACY

Pharmacists and other health care providers are still responsible for their pre-pandemic work, while managing the additional influx of COVID-positive patients. To quickly and efficiently disperse vaccinations to all of Wisconsin’s eligible residents, the effort needs as many qualified individuals to get involved as possible.

Third- and fourth-year PharmD students are already trained vaccinators who are ready and willing to help. And, in preparation for the passing of Assembly Bill 4 extending vaccination capabilities to all trained student pharmacists, the School of Pharmacy moved the requisite training earlier in the curriculum and opened it up to first-year PharmD students, so they can begin pitching in, too.

Even PharmD students who haven’t yet gone through the training can play an important role — screening patients, educating them about the vaccine, and documenting who has received the vaccine, which type they were given, and when they need to return for their second dose.

“It’s a win-win,” says Hoernke. “We get practice educating patients and administering the vaccine, and we also get to help out the public. I think it will be really helpful.”

Hoernke and Batterman are co-chairs of the Wisconsin Society of Pharmacy Students’ Operation Immunization, which has recruited 171 students to volunteer more than 500 hours at 12 clinics around the state between Jan. 14 and Feb. 19. The school’s student pharmacists are also getting involved through their clinical Pharmacy Practice Experiences and will be joining the Wisconsin National Guard at mobile clinics that aim to accelerate the state’s vaccination plan.

“I felt incredibly prepared to begin helping with COVID-19 vaccinations,” says Hoernke. “The School of Pharmacy does a great job ensuring that students are more than competent to take on ‘real-life’ health care opportunities outside of the classroom.”

Students take the lead
Through their work with annual influenza vaccine clinics, Hoernke and Batterman have made many connections with pharmacies that are now reaching out for help with their COVID-19 immunization services. Pharmacies that aren’t participating in the early phases of the state’s vaccination plan have told Hoernke and Batterman that they’ll be in touch as soon as their shipments of vaccine arrive.

Headshots of Maggie Hoernke (left) and Nikki Batterman
PharmD students Maggie Hoernke (left) and Nikki Batterman, co-chairs of the Wisconsin Society of Pharmacy Students’ Operation Immunization. UW-MADISON SCHOOL OF PHARMACY

One of the first sites to leverage the school’s PharmD students is Fitchburg Family Pharmacy, which held its first vaccine clinic with the students’ help on Jan. 18.

“They are very grateful,” says Hoernke. “They are a smaller pharmacy, so they need more people to educate patients, provide the vaccine, and complete documentation.”

The PharmD students are making a particularly large impact in rural areas, where access to health care providers is more limited. Rural pharmacies like Boscobel Pharmacy and Forward Pharmacies have reached out to Operation Immunization for volunteer help, and students also volunteered at Jefferson County’s mass vaccination clinic at Jefferson Fair Park, which reached more than 800 community members.

“These University of Wisconsin–Madison Pharmacy students, who are helping out with COVID-19 vaccine distribution in our state, exemplify the Wisconsin spirit,” writes Gov. Tony Evers in a Facebook post.

The clinical rotations that are core to the PharmD curriculum give student pharmacists another avenue to help protect communities by supporting COVID-19 vaccine delivery.

Fourth-year pharmacy students Emily Jaeger and Taylor Jacobs are on Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotations at Milwaukee’s Hayat Pharmacy, where they led the creation of a workflow for a COVID vaccine clinic. They administered 150 doses the week of Jan. 18 and about 1,000 doses the week of Jan. 25.

“Taylor and I have been integral to preparing and administering the Pfizer vaccines,” says Jaeger. “Hayat was the first community pharmacy to receive the vaccine in the Milwaukee area.”

2 people talking to drivers in a line of parked cars
Third-year PharmD students Nick Olszewski and Alex Peterson-Weber screen patients at Fitchburg Family Pharmacy before their COVID-19 vaccine injections. UW-MADISON SCHOOL OF PHARMACY

Katelyn Reiter, a fourth-year PharmD student who is on an APPE clinical rotation at Genoa LTC Pharmacy in Jackson and works as an intern at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, has administered Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and has completed the training for administering Moderna’s vaccine, which touches on how the vaccine is stored and reconstituted, as well as its stability.

“I feel honored to be a part of distributing vaccines across Wisconsin,” says Reiter. “It’s been a unique experience, and I feel that pharmacy students and pharmacists are making history by playing such a significant role in the chain of distribution.”

Like Reiter, Jaeger and Jacobs, many other PharmD students from the School of Pharmacy are on their clinical rotations or are working at pharmacies and help support vaccination programs, such as at Capitol Lakes Health Center.

“Each pharmacist giving vaccines at Capitol Lakes has a pharmacy student on their team,” says Assistant Dean and Professor Mara Kieser, a consultant at Capitol Lakes. “Having our pharmacy students, with their exceptional training, helping the Capitol Lakes staff has helped us greatly accelerate resident vaccination.”

Empowering student pharmacists
In response to the urgent need for vaccine administrators, the School of Pharmacy adjusted the timing of the Comprehensive Immunization Delivery course, developed and taught by Professor Mary Hayney, to equip more student pharmacists with the necessary skills sooner. Typically, student pharmacists take the course later in their second year, but, because of pending legislation, the school moved it up to end the first week in March.

2 people standing at a counter holding syringes
Third-year PharmD students Nick Olszewski and Alex Peterson-Weber prepare doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at Fitchburg Family Pharmacy. UW-MADISON SCHOOL OF PHARMACY

“For the first time, we’re also offering first-year PharmD students the option of taking the Comprehensive Immunization Delivery course to get up to speed,” says Hayney.

Previously, pharmacy students in Wisconsin could become pharmacy interns after completing their second year of pharmacy school and were then allowed to administer immunizations under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist.

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 4, signed into law on Feb. 19, has expanded the capability to administer COVID-19 vaccines to all trained pharmacy students, under the supervision of a licensed provider. Erica Terry, a fourth-year PharmD student, testified before an Assembly committee to support the law change, and 97 students submitted written testimony in favor of the bill and amendment.

“I am lucky to be one of many first-year students taking the vaccination training early, thanks to the school’s commitment to involve more students in immunization efforts,” says PharmD student Maria Golovkina, who plans to volunteer with Operation Immunization as soon as she completes training. “It’s encouraging to see the expansion of pharmacy student immunizers, and I’m hopeful that we will be valuable contributors in helping Wisconsin recover from this historic public health event.”

Sixty-nine first-year students have registered for the course, which covers vaccine administration as well as vaccine storage and reconstitution, management of adverse reactions, appropriate timing of vaccines, populations with specific vaccine needs, record keeping, managing protocols, and travel medicine.

“Dr. Hayney is incredibly dedicated to making sure that students learn the material thoroughly and has been an integral part of my success as a student immunizer,” says Hoernke. “Throughout my COVID vaccine training and delivery, never did I once lack confidence in my knowledge, skills or technique, since I was taught by the best of the best.”

Person sitting at computer while talking on phone
Second-year PharmD student Ashley Srb schedules second COVID-19 vaccine doses at Fitchburg Family Pharmacy. UW-MADISON SCHOOL OF PHARMACY

The timing of the Comprehensive Immunization Delivery course was just one logistical hurdle the school overcame to equip PharmD students to combat COVID-19 and serve more patients during the pandemic.

In addition to training, pharmacy students also need to receive COVID-19 vaccinations before they can deliver them. Pharmacy students and faculty with clinical practices are included in Phase 1a, and while those based in Madison could be vaccinated through University Health Services (UHS), the school needed to form a new plan for PharmD students on their APPE rotations throughout the state.

“We have pharmacy sites in four of our five regions outside of Madison identified to give vaccines,” says Kieser, the school’s experiential education director. “It’s very exciting. Hayat Pharmacy was the first that offered to vaccinate students, and Emily Jaeger, on rotation at Hayat, coordinated it all.”

Continuing to expand access
As the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine grows to include more groups, the School of Pharmacy has plans to support additional efforts to deliver the vaccine to populations around the state.

Soon, the school’s students will be joining UHS’ efforts to vaccinate the UW–Madison campus community, including staff, faculty and students. As the only pharmacy school in the UW System, the School of Pharmacy will also work with the Wisconsin National Guard to provide vaccinations at its mobile clinics around Wisconsin in a partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and UW System. With pharmacists holding a critical role in this pandemic, faculty and students are at the ready, waiting to be called into action.

“There are great public health initiatives in any realm of pharmacy,” adds Batterman. “It’s cool to see pharmacists moving further into the spotlight and showing what they can do, especially with vaccine efforts.”

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