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Additional Efforts

While MCPHS has entered into many formal partnerships to deploy our healthcare leaders to the vaccination front lines, many of our Community members are taking action elsewhere and in a variety of ways. Some are vaccinating patients in retail pharmacies, nursing homes, and mass vaccination sites. Others are fighting misinformation and working to provide reliable answers to questions and concerns about the vaccines. Some are even translating for those who don’t speak English so that they can understand the information they need.

We are proud of and grateful for the efforts of MCPHS students, alumni, faculty, and staff as they have stepped up to help vaccinate our nation and keep our communities healthy and safe.

Since January 2021 Illya Karpenko, PharmD ‘25, has dedicated 40 hours a week to the COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts at 2Life Communities in Brighton, Massachusetts, which offers affordable housing for low-income seniors. When he started in September, Illya’s work was initially that of a “helping hand,” which meant delivering the residents’ groceries, mail, and laundry. Around November, he became involved on the flu vaccination team because of his communication skills, namely his ability to speak Russian and Ukrainian. The 2Life staff, one pharmacist of which is another MCPHS alum, noticed his professionalism and later promoted him to test administrator upon the opening of 2Life’s COVID-19 testing center. He also reprised his role as a translator for the COVID-19 vaccination team when 2Life began administering vaccines in January.

Although Illya spends most days mixing solutions for the rapid tests of residents, staff, and visitors, he spends about one day a week on the vaccination team at 2Life. They administer about 100 vaccines in a day, with 60% of vaccine recipients in need of a Russian translator. Illya’s translations help the vaccination effort by easing residents’ concerns and explaining the contents of the consent form. He says about 91% of 934 residents on the Brighton campus are now vaccinated. Illya says, “The residents, especially when the pandemic began, felt so lonely because they couldn’t walk outside, they couldn’t meet with each other, and I was the only one they could speak to in their native language.” The residents have shown Illya immense gratitude for his communication, often giving him food in thanks.

Inspired by the pharmacists and healthcare professionals who have risked their lives throughout the pandemic, Illya is proud to be part of the healthcare community. Despite not being a pharmacist yet, he says, “I did not want to just sit at home and wait for the pandemic to be over. I wanted to work and do something for people—to be on the front line.”

In the early 2000s, MCPHS Professor of Biology Janet Hart, PhD, was a young mother who had just finished her doctorate in France. Around this time, there was a study published claiming a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism. The study has since been discredited on multiple fronts, but at the time it received huge publicity and led to a significant anti-vaccination movement. As a woman with a doctorate in microbial genetics, Dr. Hart found herself frequently approached with vaccine-related questions and concerns by family, friends, and acquaintances. She eventually created a website to fight science misinformation.

Now, almost 20 years later, misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines has caused a resurgence in vaccine hesitancy among many. And Dr. Hart has felt a renewed call to speak up. She says that the more scientists, educators, and medical professionals speak up, the better the public can make well informed health decisions that accurately weigh risks versus benefits. She says that “most people have very reasonable questions, they just don’t know where to get reliable answers.” So in November 2020 she started a public Facebook group, called Biologymom, to help fight misinformation and provide clear, science-based vaccine information in un-sensationalized language that most people can understand. “As much as I’m hesitant about engaging in social media,” says Dr. Hart, “I want to make a difference and use my expertise and ability as a teacher to help people.”

This spring, five of Dr. Hart’s students signed up for a research project with her to help with this effort. Together, they vet and curate the most relevant information and summarize it in a social media-friendly way; they plan to expand into Instagram with their efforts (#DrBiologyMom). They are very careful about pointing people to trustworthy sources and choosing what really needs to be addressed. The goal is to help people make the best decisions on both a personal and community level. Says Dr. Hart, “You can create new vaccines and develop infrastructure and access to deliver them, but if people don’t show up, it’s all for naught. If we don’t include education and outreach as part of this package, we’re missing out on an opportunity to improve trust in science, advance health literacy and, most importantly, save lives.”

Professor of Pharmacy Practice Ann Lynch, PharmD, RPh, AE‑C, has been exceptionally busy over the first few months of 2021. In addition to her teaching schedule, Dr. Lynch and several of her Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) students, from the Worcester/Manchester Accelerated PharmD program, have been administering COVID-19 vaccinations throughout much of Massachusetts. They have been doing the work through Dr. Lynch’s clinical residency at Walgreens, which has been running 5-15 vaccination sites a day across Massachusetts.

Dr. Lynch and her students have administered shots in cities and towns from Cambridge to Boston to Framingham to various locations in Central Massachusetts, starting first with long-term care facilities and then moving to other locales in accordance with the state’s vaccine rollout. The students help up to four times a week, with shifts lasting as long as eight hours. “The students have been fabulous.” says Dr. Lynch. “They’ve been an amazing help at the forefront.” By March, she and her students had administered well over 1,000 shots. “It’s so exciting for us pharmacists to be on the forefront of getting a handle on this pandemic, getting people vaccinated, and putting an end to all of this,” she says.

For Lynch, it’s an experience unlike any she’s had professionally. While she maintains that she’s not doing anything “earth-shattering—It’s just what we do,” she also feels honored to be a part of the solution to this dreadful situation. “To be able to say that you’re a part of this incredible crusade to try to make the world healthy again—that’s really something.”

Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the School of Pharmacy-Worcester/Manchester Aimee Dawson, PharmD, works at the Holyoke Health Center in Holyoke, MA, which serves a largely low-income, Spanish-speaking community. These patients, Dr. Dawson says, can have a hard time navigating the English-language vaccine rollout and face transportation barriers to mass vaccination sites. So Dr. Dawson and her Holyoke Health Center team worked hard to get the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to recognize the healthcare disadvantages faced by their community and succeeded in getting the Center chosen as one of 20 community health centers in the state to receive shipments of vaccines right away.

Dr. Dawson has been part of the vaccine effort from the start: even before vaccines were available, Dawson proactively created evidence-based presentations so that her patients could have a clearer understanding of the vaccines and why they should feel motivated to get vaccinated. The first shipment arrived on December 23, 2020. Says Dr. Dawson, “We had a clinic up and running the very next day, on Christmas Eve. We’ve been vaccinating ever since then.” A large part of the work has been community outreach—and that’s where many of Dawson’s MCPHS students have been a particularly big help. Five of her Advanced Practice Pharmacy Experience students who speak Spanish volunteered to make phone calls after their classes and their rotations; in their first night alone, the students made over 200 calls to elderly patients.

The students have done more than make calls. Dr. Dawson says that “they’ve been involved with every step of the process of being able to vaccinate our patients,” from cleaning to preparation to administering the shots. Some of these students ended up giving vaccines to the same people they spoke with on the phone, something Dawson said the patients absolutely loved. The Center receives anywhere from 200-500 vaccine doses each week, and Dawson and her students have vaccinated close to 2,000 patients themselves. And to do that for a community that often faces disadvantages in healthcare, says Dawson, has been more than rewarding.

Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice Dr. Trisha LaPointe works as a pharmacist in inpatient medicine at Lowell General Hospital. The facility became a site for Massachusetts’ mass COVID-19 vaccination program, and up to 2,000 shots a day are administered there. But the hospital has also been helping with offsite vaccination and outreach, something in which Dr. LaPointe has been heavily involved and that she finds rewarding.

Dr. LaPointe has been administering vaccines to elderly residents through the Chelmsford Housing Authority (CHA). She says that this population has been especially affected by quarantine protocols—they have been confined to their apartment buildings for a full year. That hit Dr. LaPointe hard. The 15-minute post-vaccination aftercare period; they’d been starved for social activity. That reminded her why, in addition to saving lives, giving vaccines is crucial work: “Getting everyone vaccinated is the only way we’re going to see normalcy again,” she says.

Dr. LaPointe has been giving shots since early February and has administered all three U.S.-approved vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. She’s worked at CHA properties in Chelmsford, Westford, and Shirley, as well as at the Lowell Association for the Blind. “I love being out in the community,” she says. Helping her vaccinate these patients have been some of Dr. LaPointe’s Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience students, something she says has been a great experience for all of them.

Adjunct Instructor of Pharmacy Practice Annie Vong, PharmD has been working at least six—and sometimes seven—days a week doing all she can to help the world get past the COVID-19 pandemic. A clinical pharmacist with Atrius Health, Dr. Vong usually works in Watertown, Massachusetts, but during the pandemic, she volunteered to redeploy to assist with the organization’s drive-through testing site in Burlington. The site is outdoors, and she is there with the team rain, shine, snow, or wind. She says it’s crucial to “think positive, test negative.”

But that’s just during the week. Dr. Vong has been giving up weekend time to help vaccinate the public at vaccination sites all over the Boston area, from Kenmore to Roxbury to Watertown to Arlington. She works in these clinics, which vaccinate 600 to 2500 people over the course of a weekend. Dr. Vong estimates she herself has vaccinated several hundred patients and plans to keep up her busy schedule: “I’m trying to get as many vaccines into the arms of the public as possible,” she says.

Dr. Vong’s work pace has been exhausting, but she says, “Because I’m part of the solution, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel, I feel pretty good.” She makes sure to keep up a regular exercise routine and a healthy diet so that she can keep doing what she does. And she keeps in mind that famous Muhammad Ali quote, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it.”

Nancy Hurwitz, DScPAS, MHP, PA‑C, is the Director of Clinical Education & Associate Professor of Physician Assistant Studies at MCPHS in Boston; clinical work is her passion. She has been a PA for 30 years, working in pediatrics and family medicine and pediatric emergency medicine. When much of her clinical work was halted due to the pandemic, Dr. Hurwitz knew she needed something else to do, a way to help. “I probably will never leave clinical work until I cease to exist. That’s why I became a PA.”

She started by assisting with testing when her pediatric urgent care site became a testing center, and she even volunteered to deliver food to those in need through a disaster response organization called Team Rubicon. And as soon as vaccination doses became available, she signed up to help immunize the public.

Mass General Brigham/Newton-Wellesley has a vaccination site at the TripAdvisor headquarters in Needham, Massachusetts, with Newton-Wellesley Hospital personnel staffing the clinics. Dr. Hurwitz, who has worked in the hospital’s Pediatric Emergency Dept for 15 years, has been there two or three afternoons a week. The team works with the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. She says the site has been very well organized: she says that patients hardly have to wait at all and estimates that eleven staff members each administer around 35 shots every five-hour shift. It adds up to over 600 shots in a ten-hour day.

Dr. Hurwitz loves it. “This is by far the most rewarding work. Folks are so grateful to be getting protection. I’ve never been thanked so much.” She adds, “I’m surrounded by nurses and medical providers who love what they’re doing. They’re doing it because they want to.” But the most important part of the experience remains those she serves. Says Dr. Hurwitz, “The patients are the best part.”

Sarah Boddie, PharmD ‘22, works as a pharmacy intern with Walgreens in Nashua, New Hampshire. That job and her schoolwork keep her busy even in normal times. But in January 2021, in addition to their usual duties, Sarah and her pharmacy team started vaccinating employees at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and hospitals, traveling to the locations to administer doses on site. The team then moved on to smaller group homes to vaccinate people with mental or other disabilities—an experience Sarah says she values. She says that serving people in an intimate environment is something she might not have encountered otherwise.

After traveling around to these different facilities during Phase One of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, Sarah and her team moved on to giving vaccines at their pharmacy. Her location, she says, was administering over 100 vaccinations a day in the winter. The extra work has been stressful, Sarah says: “It’s been really crazy.” But at the same time, she adds, “I think it’s really cool work. I feel like a part of history. . . . I don’t have to be there, but I would like to help out.” As of mid-March, Sarah said she’d administered several hundred vaccinations, mostly Moderna as well as some Pfizer. To play such a huge role in ending a pandemic isn’t something she’d imagined would happen during her time in pharmacy school, but she’s been proud to do it. “This is real life,” she says, “and this is what I’m being trained for.”

After a shift to virtual appointments due to the pandemic, Dr. Mary Gilman, Adjunct Faculty at the MCPHS School of Optometry, returned to providing in-person treatment at the Family Health Center of Worcester in August 2020. Her students, who worked directly with patients as part of their rotations, returned to in-person treatment that September. Every day, both she and her optometry students risked exposure to the coronavirus so that they could give their patients the care they needed.

When COVID-19 vaccines started to become available to healthcare workers in December 2020, there was a lot of confusion about who could get vaccinated when and where—especially among patient-facing students. When precisely would they be eligible? Were they supposed to go the mass vaccination site at Gillette Stadium during off hours? Or all the way to Springfield?

Dr. Gilman stepped up to help. The Family Health Center right in Worcester received vaccinations to give to their employees, and Dr. Gilman inquired about leftover doses for her patient-facing students. She advocated for them, since they were providing in-person care to patients at the Eye and Vision Center on the MCPHS Worcester campus. It was a smart move: the Family Health Center had extra doses. Dr. Gilman contacted her students, who were grateful not only to get the vaccine, but to do so locally. In the end, she was able to get about 15 optometry students vaccinated, protecting her MCPHS students and minimizing vaccine waste at the same time.

As a student on MCPHS’s Boston campus, Christina Koopmans, Post-Baccalaureate Bachelor of Science in Nursing, ‘21, wanted to help on the health front lines, but she didn’t know what she could do—that is, until she received an email about a vaccination effort at Fenway Park. The organizers of this effort include CIC-Health, Cataldo Ambulance, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Koopmans applied immediately, which earned her a spot as one of the first few hundred workers out of thousands of applications to be accepted in the first round.

In addition to being a full-time student, Koopmans started working an average of 27 hours per week. After just six weeks on the job, she had administered nearly 400 Pfizer vaccines in addition to helping to prepare or “draw up” vaccines, settle appointments, and check on patients in the recovery and waiting area. Eventually, the effort outgrew the baseball park and moved to the Hynes Convention Center.

Despite the long shifts, Koopmans describes a positive energy at the vaccination center. She says, “Pretty much everyone is so grateful to be there, and they’re so grateful that I’m there working. And I feel the same with them . . . . I think it’s a mutual respect between most of the people coming in to get vaccinated and then the staff.” She has also enjoyed meeting many other MCPHS nursing students whom she wouldn’t have met otherwise, since the 16-month accelerated program became mostly online due to the pandemic.

 

Among the many challenges that students—especially those in healthcare programs—have faced during the coronavirus pandemic has been the inaccessibility of clinical work, which they need to meet the minimum required hours for graduation. Considering the restrictions caused by the pandemic, the boards of nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (MCPHS’s national accreditor) allowed nursing students to replace half of their direct-care clinical hours with clinical simulation; however, that still left a hefty requirement of 217 direct-care clinical hours.

In an effort to support her students with their clinical experience, Interim Dean and Chief Nurse Administrator Tammy Gravel, EdD, MS, RN, organized a Saturday shift in late April 2021 at Harrington Memorial Hospital, which was available to five nursing students shortly before their graduation. Dr. Gravel has a longtime connection with Harrington, having worked there in a variety of roles during her career. She says she was happy to help her students “cross the finish line” in terms of their clinical hours. She personally accompanied the students on their shift, which began at 7 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m. The students gained experience in patient education and administering vaccines, helping Harrington Memorial Hospital to deliver 200 vaccines that day. Dr. Gravel says her students were so grateful to be accepted at the hospital and that the hospital likewise welcomed their help. She adds, “Being part of this historic initiative, if you will; to get people vaccinated is a gift.”