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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.”