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UW Plays Key Role in Vaccination Rollout

September 10, 2021
woman preparing vaccine
Pharmacy student Marcela Gramcko extracts the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into needles to prepare for a vaccinations clinic.

Students, faculty and staff helps Albany County achieve COVID-19 vaccination success. 

By UW Institutional Communications 

When the COVID-19 vaccinations were approved, University of Wyoming faculty, staff and students stepped up to help streamline the process and get as many folks vaccinated as possible. By June 2021, their efforts played such a key role that UW and the broader Albany County community achieved one of the highest levels of vaccination in the state.

The efforts were led by College of Health Sciences Dean David Jones and School of Pharmacy Dean Kem Krueger. Dozens of UW employees and volunteers joined colleagues with Albany County Public Health, Ivinson Memorial Hospital and local pharmacies to administer thousands of doses of the vaccines in the county since late December 2020.

The Albany County COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic team held its final walk-in clinic of the summer term June 10. As of mid August, a survey indicated 88 percent of employees reported being fully vaccinated. In Albany County overall, more than 45 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated at that time, topped only by Teton County.

“I’m so proud and appreciative of the great work done by so many members of the UW community to administer these safe and highly effective vaccines,” UW President Ed Seidel said in June. “My sincere hope is that all of our employees who are medically able will choose to be vaccinated this summer. The same goes for our students, for whom we’re planning to expand an incentive and information program leading up to the start of the fall semester.” 

Multidisciplinary Efforts

UW students and employees helped with the vaccination efforts on a range of fronts, from scheduling appointments via telephone to providing facilities to actually administering the vaccine shots.

“Getting the vaccine to members of our community is our best hope to end this pandemic, and we’re happy to use the university’s resources and expertise to help make it happen,” said College of Health Sciences Dean David Jones in March. Jones oversaw sample collection for UW’s COVID-19 testing program at the same time as he helped organize vaccine clinics. “We feel very fortunate to work alongside our partners with Albany County Public Health, IMH, local pharmacies and others. For UW, it’s not only a way for us to fulfill our mission of service to our community and the state—it’s also the best path forward to allow the university and the broader community to return to pre-pandemic conditions as quickly as possible.”

The vaccination clinics were conducted at the National Guard Armory, owned by UW, and the former Mountain View Medical Park building, which was purchased by UW in late 2020 using federal CARES Act funding allocated by Gov. Mark Gordon. Numerous students and clinical faculty members in UW’s School of Pharmacy were part of the effort, led by faculty member Melissa Hunter and Dean Krueger.

“The clinic is a great interprofessional activity,” Krueger says. “This public health initiative has added to the students’ education, and they have been vital to the vaccination efforts.”

Students and clinical faculty from the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing and Wyoming-WWAMI Medical Education Program joined their pharmacy colleagues in vaccine administration.

Dr. Brant Schumaker—a veterinary epidemiologist and an associate professor in UW’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources who now leads the Wyoming WWAMI Medical Education Program at UW—organized students and other volunteers for the expanded operation, which also involved checking in people when they arrived for their vaccinations; monitoring them after they received their shots; and recording the vaccinations for the Wyoming Immunization Registry.

Marcela Gramcko, a third-year pharmacy student from Caracas, Venezuela, was among those administering the vaccine. She was glad to be part of the effort. She describes vaccinations as “a step in the right direction to win this fight against COVID-19.”

Fourth-year pharmacy student Kristyn McKnight of Dallas, Texas, says that vaccinations not only will help protect the health of the individuals receiving them but also will reduce the spread and overall burden of the disease.

“I sincerely hope that widespread COVID vaccinations in the UW community, paired with continued mask wearing and social distancing, will eventually lead to a return to normalcy,” McKnight said this spring.

Albany County Health Officer Dr. Jean Allais says the collaborative vaccination program was a practical, effective approach to help the community eventually achieve herd immunity against COVID-19.

“Collaboration with the university, IMH and local pharmacies allows us to get more vaccines in more people more quickly,” Allais said in March. “The collaboration also lets each agency utilize their resources to provide customized services, locations and communications to their target audiences.”

woman in mask with clipboard talking to someone in a busy room
UW pharmacy student Kristina Zaharas speaks with a patient at a vaccination clinic.

Connecting People with the Vaccine

Meanwhile, UW’s Wyoming Center on Aging (WyCOA) provided staff to support the work of the Albany County COVID-19 vaccine call center. The team of 16 staff members from WyCOA and its subunit, the Dementia Support Center, as well as some staff from the UW Psychology Clinic, answered thousands of phone calls to schedule vaccination appointments for members of the community.

“Hosting a call center was a quick way to create equitable access to the vaccine for all eligible residents of Albany County,” says Christine McKibbin, a professor of psychology and WyCOA’s director. “Just creating and launching the call center has been an incredible interagency partnership, and we are pleased to do our part to create equitable access to the vaccine for older residents of Albany County and all other eligible groups.”

The mission of WyCOA—a grant- and contract-supported organization within the Department of Psychology and the College of Arts and Sciences—is to optimize the health and well-being of Wyoming’s older residents and their caregivers through interagency partnerships, basic and applied research, community education, and clinical training and services.

McKibbin says she appreciates the strong support from IMH to create a scheduling platform; from UW Telecommunications and Information Technology (IT) to provide a telephone platform; from ACPH and UW veterinary sciences faculty who provided guidance regarding vaccine priorities; and UW’s College of Health Sciences and School of Pharmacy and public health staff who have planned for and administer the vaccine. Brett Williams, UW IT’s director of applications and customer relationships, was at the center of the work, and UW Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center Senior Research Scientist Brian Harnisch developed an intake form for Albany County employers.

“The last few weeks, while working in the COVID vaccine call center, have been incredibly rewarding and energizing to me,” said Sabine Schenck, a senior project coordinator with WyCOA, in March. “It is such meaningful work to personalize the vaccine appointment experience for older Albany County residents. Most of our callers have been socially isolated during the past year and are grateful and relieved that they will soon be able to get back to life. They appreciated talking to a person rather than having to set up an appointment electronically.” 

Campus Community

By late March, all members of the UW community were eligible to be vaccinated.

“The main reason I’m doing this is that I’m always thinking about older people like my grandfather,” said Julian Bustos, a freshman music education major from Cheyenne, as he waited for his shot in March. “It makes me feel safer so I can be around people who are elderly and more susceptible. It’s about taking care of everybody by taking care of yourself.”

While vaccinations are not required for UW students and employees, they’re strongly encouraged. And, to allow the university to track overall vaccination numbers, students and employees reported their vaccinations once they were received them.

Reed Scull, an associate professor in UW’s College of Education, received his vaccines in March. “To my students, I would say: ‘Do this for yourself but also for others.’ There are things that are larger than ourselves and, as professionals, we need to think about those larger issues like the community health as well as your individual health. I think it’s going to make people feel confident, long term, to get out and about. And I think it will help our campus environment considerably.

I most look forward to seeing my friends and colleagues in person and having nice long conversations with my students.”

“It will keep my family safe and make it so I can see my grandparents,” said Matilda Schiewe, a freshman kinesiology major from Evergreen, Colo., shortly after she received her shot in March. She added that being vaccinated would help return to more in-person classes in the fall, which is especially important for “the hands-on aspect of the classes I’ll be taking next.”

By the end of March, UW announced that it was proceeding with plans for face-to-face classes at maximum capacity this fall, along with face-to-face student engagement programs, in-person athletics experiences and the like. UW’s Board of Trustees adopted a resolution to “fully reopen” the university “consistent with the health policy guidelines and directives of the state and federal governments regarding COVID-19.”

Dean Jones said, “After quite a challenging and difficult period, we all kind of feel like we’re looking at the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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