LATROBE, PA – Saint Vincent College has served as a regional hub for public vaccination efforts since the public launch of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in late January.
Through Saint Vincent College’s partnership with Mainline Pharmacy, more than 17,000 doses have been distributed at twice-weekly vaccination clinics held in the Fred M. Rogers Center during the past three months, staffed primarily by volunteers from the Saint Vincent student body, staff and administration.
The clinics were initially limited to the 1A group for the first eight weeks, but as the public vaccination rates have increased, so has the list of those eligible to receive the vaccine. As a result, a special vaccination clinic was held for Saint Vincent College students and community members on Wednesday, April 21.
For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. John Smetanka, vice president for academic affairs and academic dean, has been leading the College’s health and safety efforts as chair of the SVC Forward Together Advisory Committee. Also the driving force behind launching the College’s partnership with Mainline Pharmacy, Smetanka stressed the significance of being able to offer a clinic solely to the SVC students and community.
“Not all colleges have the opportunity to offer vaccinations on campus, especially small colleges without a medical school or hospital,” he said. “Having the Mainline clinics on campus has provided a rare opportunity for our students to both get the vaccine themselves, and also to support the community. This vaccination clinic marks an important milestone in our efforts to contain COVID-19.
“Many students,” he added, “have been vaccinated already through volunteering at earlier clinics in February and March.”
The volunteer roles by the SVC students have included checking in patients, scheduling patients’ second doses, parking lot management, shuttling patients and guiding patients throughout the Rogers Center.
Recently, this list of volunteer roles has grown, as students in the Saint Vincent College/Carlow University collaborative bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program have been entrusted to administer the vaccinations, enabling them to garner important hands-on experience while also helping the community curb the spread of the virus.
Smetanka proposed the idea of having nursing students administer vaccines to Carla Tomas, director of the Saint Vincent/Carlow BSN collaboration, shortly after forming the partnership with Mainline Pharmacy. Tomas promptly accepted the offer, and after her students received extensive vaccination training during the early weeks of the semester, they delivered their first shots in the Rogers Center as part of their clinical training.
“Because they are students and aren’t yet licensed,” Tomas explained, “anything that they do related to giving medication or a vaccination has to be overseen by a licensed faculty member. So, the best way for us to give them this experience of giving a vaccine was to have the vaccine clinic take the place of a typical clinical day, when they normally would have been at the hospital.”
The nursing students work the vaccination clinics each Friday in the Rogers Center from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. in lieu of their typical clinical, scheduled on Mondays from 7 a.m. – noon at Excela Westmoreland Hospital. While this new arrangement has forced some scheduling adjustments, Tomas said that there was no hesitation on the part of both her students and their faculty at Excela Health.
“Everyone was willing,” she said. “They understand the importance of it and want to be part of something good.”
During the special Saint Vincent vaccination clinic on April 21, junior Austin Kemp was among the nursing students who administered the Pfizer vaccine. A native of Sarver, Pennsylvania, Kemp was thankful for the opportunity to help his fellow students and the community.
“I think that it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “Obviously, this pandemic has affected everyone’s lives dramatically. To be in the health care field is an honor in itself, and to be able to help during the pandemic is an incredible experience.”
The April 21 clinic marked the third at which Kemp administered vaccines after receiving extensive education and training.
“In class,” he said, “we really covered in-depth how to distribute medication, and immunization shots in particular. It’s been really cool to be able to apply what we’ve learned like this. We all really jumped at the opportunity to help. It’s very important to get the vaccine in order to effectively protect ourselves, our family members and everyone else, and I’m pleased to be able to help.”
Fellow nursing major – and vaccinator – Nicole Abrams, a sophomore from Pittsburgh, was excited when she first learned that the Rogers Center would be a vaccination site. When she received word that she and her classmates would be given the opportunity to actually administer the vaccines, she was even more overjoyed.
“I just really love it,” she said. “We can just come down here, right on our campus, to volunteer and get this experience.”
Among the score of students that Abrams vaccinated during the April 21 clinic was her roommate, Cara Luallen, a sophomore engineering major from Pataskala, Ohio. She had been eager to get vaccinated since the vaccines were first approved shortly after Christmas, and even considered traveling the 200 miles back home to do so. When she learned of the clinic coming to Saint Vincent, she was elated.
“I was very excited that the vaccinations were being offered here,” she said. “I am glad I was able to do it here so super conveniently. It’s incredible. It’s such a good opportunity and I am glad that it has been offered to everyone.”
Tomas, who is also a member of the Forward Together Advisory Committee, has continually reiterated to her students the importance of being vaccinated.
“I tell them that if things are ever going to get back to normal on this campus,” she said, “it’s because we achieved herd immunity, which is done through immunization. I’ve had students tell me that they are tired of being contact traced and tired of being quarantined, so they got the vaccine. That’s what it takes.
“One of our students here today,” she continued, “said that she was able to convince her friends to get the vaccine because she was the one who would be giving it.”
Luallen realizes that some have been tentative about receiving the vaccine, but said that she never hesitated to do so because of both its effectiveness and the hope that it could help hasten the return of normalcy to daily life on campus.
“I can understand why people were nervous,” she stated. “You hear of people who may have had issues with vaccines in the past. But, I think getting this COVID vaccine is very important. It’s going to help the common good for everyone, and it’s going to help us just get back to normal.”
Having overseen Saint Vincent College’s response to the pandemic for the past year, Smetanka said that he is proud of the resiliency, compassion and dedication shown by the SVC community in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. He acknowledged that its disruption to normalcy has forced many great sacrifices but reinforced that as more members of the community get vaccinated, the return to normal will be sooner.
“Having a significant fraction of the campus community vaccinated takes us one step closer to full classrooms, dining rooms, bleachers and concert venues,” he said. “It’s one step closer to visitation in residence halls, welcoming visitors to campus and not having to be physically distanced in social situations.
“Plus,” he continued, “reducing the number of COVID-19 infections is central to eliminating the possibility of more contagious variants developing and to finally putting this pandemic behind us for good.”
Mainline Pharmacy will continue to host vaccination clinics at the Fred M. Rogers Center weekly through at least the early summer. To register for a future clinic, visit https://mainlinepharmacy.com/covid-vaccine-scheduling/.
PHOTO 1: Students enrolled in the SVC/Carlow University collaborative BSN program at the April 21 vaccination clinic at the Fred M. Rogers Center.
PHOTO 2: Austin Kemp administers a vaccine at the April 21 vaccination clinic in the Fred M. Rogers Center
PHOTO 3: Nicole Abrams administers a vaccine at the April 21 vaccination clinic in the Fred M. Rogers Center