In this Issue
Getting as many people vaccinated against COVID-19 is one of those things that’s easier said than done. There are a lot of practical hurdles to vaccinating large groups of people nearly simultaneously, not the least of which being the gathering of volunteers to help keep people organized, get them to the right place and getting shots into arms.
Volunteers from Touro University California have played their part, from faculty and staff, to students, many in the TUC family have assisted Solano County’s effort, as well as the effort in adjacent counties, to vaccine as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented incredible challenges for our community but it has also provided unprecedented opportunities for collaboration,” said Dr Sarah Sweitzer, Provost and Chief Academic Advisor. “We at Touro are proud to be standing with our partners to assist in the COVID-19 vaccination efforts across Solano County.”
According to data from the state, Solano County had vaccinated nearly 70,000 individuals, thanks largely to so-called MassVax events, like those held on recent weekends at the Solano County Fairgrounds in Vallejo.
Solano’s public health website estimates nearly 8,000 county residents a day are being vaccinated.
“We know that fighting for the health of our communities takes all of us and we are both humbled and grateful for the opportunity to contribute to such a historic effort,” Dr. Sweitzer said. “Our students, faculty, and staff are all incredibly passionate about serving in our community to improve accessibility, equity, and quality of services for those receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.”
For student volunteers, there has been an added benefit of gaining some practical clinical experience, but what has lured both student and faculty/staff volunteers alike to volunteer at various vaccine events throughout the region has been the drive to feel like they are helping fight COVID in a meaningful way.
“As an advanced practice nurse and member of the Touro community it is important to me to be able to serve our community,” said School of Nursing Assistant Professor, Kathleen Hahn. “This experience with volunteering to help organize, facilitate and be a member of a wonderful team of faculty leaders at Touro to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to our community has been nothing short of amazing!”
College of Osteopathic Medicine student-doctor Michelle Nguyen said the experience really drove home the emotional toll the pandemic has taken on people – from being in isolation much of the time, to simply living in constant fear of an unknown virus.
“Almost every patient expressed how amazed they were by the event's size and efficiency,” Nguyen said. “Several patients even shed tears of joy due to how appreciative they felt for all the volunteers.”
The gratitude that many coming to the vaccination event expressed was very heartwarming, Hahn said. The end of a long, arduous journey was nearly at an end, it seemed, for many.
“People have been so grateful and full of praise for the work, and we are really doing something meaningful to help eradicate this pandemic, and keep people safe and hopefully some kind of return to normalcy after so many months of lockdowns,” Hahn said.
That gratitude isn’t just felt by the attendees coming to get vaccinated. For student-doctor Nguyen, the volunteerism of Hahn and many others like her, made her grateful for the TUC community at large.
“I also feel proud to attend a school whose faculty from all the colleges also work together closely to coordinate this huge event for the community while also advocating for their students,” Nguyen said.
Hahn and other faculty/staff were happy just to see the students not only have an opportunity to take a break from Zoom and other digital interfaces and have a chance to actually intermingle with fellow students – regardless of program – but to also have a chance to help people, which is why they came to Touro in the first place.
“It has been wonderful to see our students come together outside of Zoom to be able to get some experience and to participate in our mission to serve, and they have been very grateful to do so,” Hahn said. “One of my favorite quotes was from an 80 year old gentleman that told our student ‘You may have just saved my life!’ after he gave him the vaccine. I know that student will never forget what he said.”
MassVax events are expected to continue for several months, with volunteers needed at each event.
Following a vaccine rollout effort that frustrated many, the State of California has picked up steam in recent weeks, with Governor Gavin Newsom recently tweeting that California is now sixth in the world for most vaccines distributed. That increase has been owed in part to an effort from NorthBay Healthcare, Touro University California’s College of Pharmacy, and Solano Community College.
“The walk up vaccination event went very smoothly with very little to no wait time,” said Lucinda Chan, College of Pharmacy Assistant Dean. “It was a very rewarding event for students, residents and pharmacist. We were all very happy to help.”
NorthBay Healthcare has administered thousands of doses of the vaccine to patients 65 and older, along with more than 900 to firefighters, police and other first responder professions. According to its website, NorthBay’s Green Valley facility is averaging just over 900 doses a day.
The complete inoculation process for this initial group will still take a few weeks to complete in its entirety, but NorthBay got a big shot in the arm of its own with the assistance of nursing students from nearby Solano College, as well as students from TUC’s College of Pharmacy.
Several of Touro’s pharmacy students have already participated in T-DAP and flu shot clinics, so they are well-positioned to help with this critical rollout process.
The Western Division sister school of TUC, Touro University Nevada, has served as a vaccination site, with medical students helping to vaccinate Southern Nevada’s healthcare workers and other clinicians, as well.
Although a much more rural county than its surrounding Bay Area cities, Solano was at the heart of the COVID crisis from the beginning. Repatriated U.S. citizens living in and around Wuhan, China were returned for quarantine to Travis Air Force Base in the earliest days of the outbreak.
A resident from the City of Vacaville was identified by the Centers for Disease Control in February of 2020 as the first-ever community spread case of the virus in the United States. That patient later died at a hospital in Sacramento.
Chan pointed out that Touro students helped vaccinate more than 1,100 patients over that weekend and she’s confident NorthBay will continue to keep up a high pace of vaccinations, saying TUC students are always ready to help again if asked.
COP students assisting during the event included: Stephanie Mae Salcedo, Katrina Zywiec, Mae Anne Banana, Ava Bazrafshan, Thuytrang Dang, Denise Yeung, Jenny Chen, Mustafa Sultani, Farah Yousif, Jenny Nguyen, Petrus Nguyen-Tu, Calvin Jay Oliman, Gary Ngoc, Hope Vang, John Nguyen, Elsie Huey, Manmeet Dhami, Sindy Wang, Toan Dang, Sarah Vreeburg, and Shannon Ton.
Faculty Members: Katrina Zywiec, Elsie Huey.
Pharmacy Residents: Denise Yeung, Petrus Nguyen-Tu.
For medical students, rotations are a double-edged sword.
On one hand, they are a welcome break from the classroom and being in a clinical setting feels like what most have set out to do when first entering medical school.
On the other hand, there is still a lot to learn, to observe, and the actual patient care is still minimal.
That has changed to an extent with the COVID-19 pandemic, as increased demands on frontline healthcare workers has meant healthcare systems and facilities have had to get strategic in how human resources are employed in the fight against COVID.
Three current Touro University California students, Ruby Gilmor, Nick Huerta, and Hashir Qamar – all from the Class of 2022 – experienced that firsthand recently during a vaccine clinic at San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton.
The Touro trio volunteered for 12 hours at an event where more than 2,500 individuals were vaccinated in the City of Stockton. All three are on rotations at San Joaquin General Hospital and were happy to help fight the pandemic in a meaningful way.
“For me, I felt like it was the first time I had a direct impact on someone's life in the fight against the pandemic,” said student-doctor Gilmor. “Sometimes as a medical student I can get caught up in the importance of tests and performing well on rotations, but it was great to take a step back and remember the reasons why I ultimately applied to medical school in the first place.”
For student-doctor Huerta, the logistics and scale of the event made it historic.
“It was amazing to play a part in the collective effort of countless volunteers who were able to make this possible," he said. “It is truly inspiring to see what can be accomplished when a collective effort is put forth by individuals who are intent on helping others.”
Student-doctor Qamar couldn’t say yes fast enough when asked to volunteer.
“For me, it wasn’t about the practical skills that I would be utilizing when administering these vaccines, but more so helping protect lives of the most vulnerable in our community,” he said.
The human toll – both on people who have contracted COVID and in high-risk individuals who have hid in fear for more than a year – became abundantly clear during the event, best expressed in a story student-doctor Qamar shared of a grandmother moved to tears after receiving her vaccine.
“This is one step closer to hugging my grandkids,” she reportedly told Qamar.
According to the website sjready.org, over 28,000 San Joaquin County residents have been vaccinated already, not including more than 29,000 healthcare workers.
One of the major keys to combatting COVID-19, once vaccines came onto the market, was finding ways to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
After organizing potential vaccine recipients into groups based on risk and exposure factors, vaccines began slowly being distributed to individuals across California.
In an effort to not only speed up the rollout, but to improve outreach, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order, allowing for pharmacy technicians to be trained to administer vaccines.
Pharmacy students undergo immunization training as part of their education, but this executive order expanded the potential pool of people trained to “get shots in arms.”
Touro University California’ College of Pharmacy assisted greatly with the necessary training to get pharmacy technicians and pharmacists qualified to help with the pandemic.
Much of the training can be completed online, but a portion of the training requires live, face-to-face qualification.
California Society of Health-System Pharmacists (CSHP) helped coordinate this training, with the current president being TUCOP faculty member Dr. Keith Yoshizuka, PharmD, MBA, JD,Assistant Dean for Administration and Chair of Social, Behavioral, and Administrative Sciences.
With assistance from TUC faculty members Dr. Eric Ip and Dr. Linda Banares, Touro was able to take advantage of existing collaborative partnerships with continuing education programs to get a training program up and running quickly and efficiently.
Dr. Banares conducted the first live training session with pharmacy technicians in late January, the first pharmacy technicians in the state to be so trained.
The training program consisted, in part, of vaccine-preventable diseases, vaccine storage and handling, prevention and reporting of adverse events, fundamentals of vaccine administration, and live assessment of injection technique, Dr. Banares said.
The training effort was done largely to help bolster the numbers of people available to give injections, but also utilized as a means to help pharmacy technicians expand the scope of their professional skills.
“That (bolstering numbers) is definitely a big part of it, considering what we are facing at this present time during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Banares said. “But in the broader sense, we want to support pharmacy technicians to expand their scope of practice in areas like this, where collaboration between the pharmacist and technician can actually enhance patient care delivery and capacity. By doing this, we both address today's needs and help build an infrastructure and precedent to address future needs.”
Other TUC faculty capable of assisting with this process in the future include Dr. Mohamed Jalloh, Dr. Monica Donnelley, and Dr. Kristen Herzik.
While every student at Touro University California has a unique path, College of Pharmacy student Kimberly Sturdivant has had an interesting journey to this point in her time at TUC.
She worked briefly with the U.S. Postal Service following her graduation from San Francisco State University prior to earning her MSMHS degree with Touro and entering the COP program thereafter.
Sturdivant has been highly engaged in campus and community service since setting foot on campus, a fact that would play an important role later in her schooling. She also has a long track record of service to her hometown of Vallejo, which would also play an important role.
Her service to her community and pursuit of graduate school didn’t initially seem to be on a converging course.
“I never thought I would be attending a graduate school in my own hometown,” Sturdivant said. “Being back to not only get a graduate education here, but to serve my community is a bit surreal.”
As was the case with most at Touro, the COVID-19 pandemic upended any sense of normalcy and many of the students developed anxiety over how the disruption would affect their progress towards graduation.
Even greater than that, many students like Sturdivant began worrying about their families.
“Concerns about graduating on time was troublesome, but my parents were my biggest concern,” Sturdivant said. “I was able to start rotations on time and go into the field. My anxiety was always up, thinking ‘what if I bring it home with me.’ ”
Sturdivant’s mother in particular has underlying health concerns that increase her risk, but even in more general terms, communities of color were proving to be at greater risk, adding to Sturdivant’s concerns.
Several organizations Sturdivant belongs to had held events trying to get more services in general to lower income area of Vallejo and that effort made her the prefect candidate for the turn her path took next.
College of Pharmacy Assistant Dean of Students, Dr. Rolly Kali-Rai sought student-volunteers to help with vaccination events, and Sturdivant was quick to agree.
“He (Dr. Kali-Rai) designated me as his assistant/coordinator to help make sure everything ran smoothly that day. I was drawing doses of the Moderna vaccine, while also making sure the booths continued to have vaccines to avoid wait times.” Sturdivant said. “During the afternoon shift, I helped guide my fellow students on how to draw the doses, fill out the vaccine cards before handing them off for the final check.”
It was through this event that she had the opportunity to alleviate her biggest source of anxiety – her own parents. Sturdivant was not only able to ensure they were vaccinated, she took the opportunity to administer the injections herself.
“Giving my parents the vaccine was the best feeling I think I have ever had in my pharmacy career so far,” Sturdivant said. “I did not go into this thinking that I could give them that chance.
“My parents have never been prouder than me,” she added. “Knowing that we are all vaccinated is such a relief in my home. It is giving us all that feeling of safety we have not felt in almost a year.”
The path ahead finally seems to have a light at the end, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
At a drive-through vaccine event, late in January, held on the Touro University California campus, nearly 150 TUC students, staff, and faculty whose presence on campus is required, received the Moderna vaccine, with follow up doses given Feb. 21.
Student, staff and faculty volunteers assisted in the event, which College of Pharmacy Assistant Dean of Students, Rolly Kali-Rai called, "a wonderful interdisciplinary event to serve the University community."
The College of Pharmacy assisted with NorthBay Healthcare’s efforts to distribute vaccines to patients in the appropriate Tier groups, including those most susceptible to severe symptoms if exposed to COVID-19, or healthcare workers and other first responders at high risk of exposure.
Staff and administrators with COP have used the experience from NorthBay’s rollout effort to coordinate TUC’s on-campus effort, as well as many subsequent outreach efforts, including training pharmacy technicians to administer vaccines, and Solano County’s so-called MassVax events.
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