Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Health sciences students pitch in at vaccination clinics
by Luanne Williams

In March 2020, when most college students across the nation were headed home to hunker down in the face of a pandemic, several Wingate pharmacy students were manning the state’s coronavirus hotline, trying to arm the public with information. This spring, Wingate’s future pharmacists, working alongside physician-assistant and nursing students, are arming the public once again, this time with the Covid vaccine.

“I think everyone has been excited to participate and contribute to finding a solution to the pandemic and everything that has thrown us for a loop over the past year,” said Michelle Chaplin, assistant dean of pharmacy. She said students, faculty and staff of the University’s Pharmacy and PA programs have worked shoulder to shoulder to help deliver the vaccine at clinics in Henderson and Union counties. On March 10, they helped administer 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine to frontline Wingate employees at a clinic at LaVerne Banquet Hall. 

Wingate health science student administers a vaccine shot

Between mid-January and mid-March, 42 Wingate volunteers spent 340 hours helping deliver vaccines at Blue Ridge Community College in Hendersonville, as part of a partnership with Pardee Hospitals and BRCC. Four students also volunteered about four hours each week with a separate Advent Health shot clinic. During the same period in Union County, 20 Wingate health science volunteers worked about 65 hours for the Health Department. And the volunteering continues.

In addition to administering the vaccine, qualified students and faculty members are helping to prepare the doses and are monitoring patients for adverse reactions. Staff members not certified to give vaccines have taken on nonclinical duties, such as cleaning, restocking vaccine stations and other logistical chores.

“At Blue Ridge Community College, the clinic is administering about 350 doses a day, between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Students and others sign up for a shift when they can,” Chaplin said. “It’s been a delicate balance as we try to protect our students’ instructional time, since the hours for the clinic are similar to the hours for class. But they need a lot of help, so it really has been a community effort to make it happen.”

She said that in addition to lots of hands-on practice giving vaccines, students have also benefited from the interprofessional nature of the clinics and from getting firsthand experience dealing with a public health crisis.

“There are a lot of different pieces that go into the vaccinations, so they see what their role can be in the bigger picture,” Chaplin said. “Instead of only being focused on the patient in front of them, the students are able to participate in the public health effort.”

Fourth-year pharmacy student Lora Holloman said she appreciated the opportunity to help protect high-risk populations from the virus.

“One of my close friends just lost her father to complications with COVID-19. He tested positive towards the end of November, before the vaccination was available,” Holloman said. “My hope is that fewer families will have to deal with the heartache she is facing because they were able to receive the vaccine.”

Chaplin said she was especially glad that health sciences students were considered essential medical workers and able to get vaccinated early this year (they were part of Group 1B), opening the door for more of them to serve the community safely.

“A lot of times people view students in these situations as add-ons, but considering them as part of that healthcare team is important,” she said. “With the Covid restrictions, a lot of places where they would normally be working in clinicals at first had to say, ‘Hold on. We can’t have them here, because of the risk.’ But now that they could get the vaccine, it puts them in a better situation. And certainly, they are positively contributing to the community and the healthcare settings where they are serving.”