Students Volunteer to Help With COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Those studying nursing and pharmacy will serve various roles in the process as frontline workers receive COVID-19 vaccines.

Student and faculty volunteers from the Colleges of Nursing and Pharmacy have been called into action as the COVID-19 pandemic shifts into the vaccination-distribution stage at locations throughout the Jefferson Health system.

At least 78 students volunteered to participate in the effort—59 from nursing and 19 from pharmacy—so far.  Some will be scheduled to work as vaccinators and observers, while others will perform vaccine check-in and scheduling duties.

The deans of both colleges see this as a great opportunity for students to further their education amid the phased two-dose vaccination approach, and pitch in to help frontline workers who have been toiling amid the pandemic’s effects for the past nine months.

“We are at the dawn of an incredible opportunity for Jefferson and for all humanity,” says Dr. Marie Ann Marino, dean of the Jefferson College of Nursing (JCN). “We are humbled and grateful that the faculty, staff, and students at the Jefferson College of Nursing will serve in integral roles as the COVID-19 vaccine is deployed to our heroic frontline staff.  We are so proud of our colleagues and stand ready to assist in all ways.”

The start of the vaccination distribution was a true team effort.

Dr. Rebecca Finley, dean of the Jefferson College of Pharmacy (JCP), concurs in noting that she could not be prouder of students and faculty members who “enthusiastically volunteered” for the effort. Insofar as the role of vaccinators, Finley notes that JCP’s student pharmacists who complete a rigorous immunization certification program during their third year in the Doctor of Pharmacy program are permitted by the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware to administer vaccines under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist.

“We are grateful for this opportunity to support this vital initiative and proud of our students and faculty who are volunteering their time,” Dr. Finley says. “In addition to the Jefferson initiative, we anticipate that many of our students will also be participating in vaccination programs at many community pharmacies where they are employed as interns.”

Jennifer Paone, a junior in the nursing program, has some very personal reasons for wanting to participate in the effort. She, her husband, their three daughters (ranging in age from 5 to 12) and four-year-old son all battled COVID-19 since October.

“I got the worst of it. I couldn’t breathe, and had a 103-degree fever,” says Paone, who notes that her husband—a Philadelphia firefighter—was the first member of the family exposed. “When I heard about this opportunity, I said I’m absolutely interested. Throw me into the lion’s den so I can help!”

Nursing student Jennifer Paone wanted to help with the vaccine distribution because she, her husband and their four children had all contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Also among the student-volunteers are fourth-year student pharmacists Nicasia D’Allesandro and Samantha Macko, who heard about the opportunity from an email that Finley sent out with a survey to gauge interest in participating.

In order to vaccinate, pharmacy students must have completed a training program approved by the Board of Pharmacy and be credentialed in Basic Life Support CPR. With those requirements met, as the third- and fourth-year students involved have done, they can immunize only under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist who is certified to immunize.

Macko notes that the pandemic has limited the number of volunteer opportunities available to students, so she jumped at this chance to help check in healthcare providers at Jefferson when getting the vaccine and assisting with observing after it’s administered.

“I was immediately interested because of how much of an impact that the pandemic has had on every person, and how much of an impact this vaccine will hopefully have,” says Macko. “Pharmacists play a huge role in routine vaccinations, so as a fourth-year pharmacy student, I would like to help in any way I can, especially with this new vaccine that has the potential to start leading us back to a ‘normal’ life.”

The vaccines will be distributed in a phased approach.

For her part, D’Allesandro notes that preparing for careers in health care leaves students eager for opportunities to learn, help and develop skillsets for the future. She says her cohort has already trained to give immunizations, but that this opportunity is unique.

D’Allesandro, who will volunteer as an observer at the start of the process, also shares some personal reasons for wanting to chip in.

“Sometimes, I feel helpless regarding fighting this pandemic, so I immediately jumped on the opportunity to do my part and show my appreciation to healthcare workers in the way that I can,” she says. “Volunteering to help the entire process allows me to feel like I am giving back. All healthcare workers who are putting their health on the line to deliver exceptional patient care deserve the world, but this is hopefully one step to helping those workers feel safer and more protected so that they may continue to save lives.

“This pandemic will forever be an unforgettable historical event. Whenever I look back, I will be able to say that I did my part, as a pharmacy student, to help those who sacrifice so much. I hope that contributing small amounts of my time will give the Jefferson healthcare professionals and hospital workers a sense of appreciation for everything they are doing.”

This is a good, hopeful, wonderful thing –Dr. Jennifer Bellot

Dr. Jennifer Bellot, JCN’s associate dean of academic practice integration, says six students are scheduled to start their volunteer efforts and are assigned to Center City and Jefferson Torresdale to begin.

At a nursing enterprise leadership meeting a few weeks ago, she mentioned that student volunteers could help fill staffing gaps as the vaccination effort commenced.

“By the end of the day, I had three meeting invites,” Dr. Bellot says. “This is a good, hopeful, wonderful thing. One of the leaders told me they had tears in their eyes upon finding out that our students will play a role. It’s our honor to do this, being in the right place at the right time. This is also an excellent opportunity for students to see more locations within the health system.”

After untangling legal and geographic concerns, she fielded an “immediate and strong response” to the call for volunteers. The schedule is already set up through January. (She even had a student from Washington, D.C. asking whether they could return to Philadelphia to help.)

“For a lot of faculty, this is our opportunity to support our colleagues and show how thankful we are for everything they have done since March,” Bellot says. “From a morale standpoint, it’s important for us to volunteer. This is a major part of history that we are participating in.”

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