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Commonwealth Medicine

On January 25, 2021, University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan and University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) Chancellor Michael F. Collins wrote an editorial in the Boston Globe calling on the state of Massachusetts to leverage its considerable healthcare student population to help with the state’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Within a few weeks, Commonwealth Medicine—the consulting operational arm of UMMS—had formed the Vaccine Corps. Modeled in many ways after the Peace Corps, the Vaccine Corps is as a network for anyone in Massachusetts to sign up and volunteer to help with the state’s vaccination efforts. As of mid March, over 4,000 people had signed up to help in just over a month—including over 100 volunteers affiliated with MCPHS.

While the Vaccine Corps provides the volunteers, St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester acts as the clinical partner and helps stand up vaccine clinics at a variety of locations, including a large-scale site at Worcester State University. The joint effort has resulted in thousands of patients vaccinated in just the first month. A huge portion of the volunteers doing the vaccination work come from academic partners whose students and faculty have the skills to prepare and administer the vaccines—including MCPHS. In just five weeks, 43 MCPHS students, faculty, and staff have volunteered a total of 415.5 hours at the Worcester State site.

Commonwealth Medicine is grateful for the MCPHS partnership. Mark Sugrue, Managing Director for Clinical Delivery and Informatic Solutions at Commonwealth Medicine, says that MCPHS Vaccine Committee Co-Chairs Anna Morin, PharmD, Dean of School of Pharmacy - Worcester/Manchester, Interim Chief Academic Officer - Worcester/Manchester, and Professor of Pharmacy Practice; and Patrick Zeller, Chief Affiliations Officer, "have been incredible partners. They have been leading the charge and have been so accommodating, so helpful, and so gracious with their time and effort.” Adds Christine Dixon, Managing Director for Healthcare Operations Solutions, “If we need something, they’re right on it."

Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice Stephanie Conway-Allen, PharmD, RPh, has been making an impression during her work at the Commonwealth Medicine large-scale vaccination site at Worcester State University. Christine Dixon of Commonwealth Medicine says that Dr. Conway-Allen has been receiving kudos from the site manager as “fabulous.” It’s easy to see why: Dr. Conway-Allen and three of her MCPHS students volunteered to start administering COVID-19 vaccinations starting in February. In the weeks since, they’ve helped a great number of patients.

During their first week, Dr. Conway-Allen provided support to her students as they vaccinated around 110 patients with the Pfizer vaccine. The following week, she herself administered about 60 vaccinations while the students helped with patient registration and support. Soon she and her team will start giving patients their second doses.

Dr. Conway-Allen says that the energy at the site has been enormously upbeat. “Everyone there has been incredibly optimistic and positive. It’s probably the first time that I’ve ever been in a vaccination situation where everyone is excited to be there.”

She also adds that the Worcester State clinic has been extremely well organized, with 45 patients coming in every ten minutes and around 800 total patients being vaccinated over four-hour sessions. And Dr. Conway-Allen plans to keep up the good work: “I plan on being a part of this as long as I’m able to.... I want to be involved for as long as is needed.”

Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice Dinesh Yogaratnam, PharmD, BCPS, BCCCP, works as a pharmacist at UMass Memorial Medical Center. When the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine manager alerted him that vaccine clinics would be starting for employees in January, Dr. Yogaratnam saw an opportunity for his pharmacy students—who had been limited in their hospital rotation opportunities due to the prevalence of COVID patients—to get involved. Dr. Yogaratnam says, “I brought it up with my students, and they were more than willing to help.”

The students helped largely with vaccine preparation and support. Two of the students who helped him were Varinder Bhatia and Priscillah Nyakundi, both PharmD ‘21. Each of them had experience performing vaccination clinic support elsewhere: Varinder at Shaws’s and Priscillah at Price Chopper. They had also worked at a Worcester Housing Authority clinic where they did everything from preparation to administration to aftercare. At the UMass Medical Center, Varinder and Priscillah drew up Pfizer vaccines, and Dr. Yogaratnam says the UMass team told him how grateful they were to have his students there helping with the vaccination process.

Varinder and Dr. Yogaratnam later helped with Commonwealth Medicine’s Worcester State vaccine clinic. Varinder says his experiences helping vaccinate the public have “been very fulfilling, especially interacting with the other healthcare professionals. They tell stories...that open your eyes.”