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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
SOLON - Iowa pharmacy students are expected to be a shot in the arm to Iowa's COVID-19 vaccine rollout, especially in rural areas where there aren't enough pharmacists.
Marissa Stewart, a third-year pharmacy student at the University of Iowa, already has volunteered at vaccine clinics in Maquoketa and Solon and hopes to do more this spring since she's done with core classes and won't start pharmacy rotations until the fall.
'With the patients I've given the vaccine, I've noticed how appreciative they are,” said Stewart, 25, of Blue Grass. 'It brings joy to me that I can provide service to the public.”
The number of pharmacists in Iowa has stayed relatively stable in recent years, but the vast majority of those are in urban areas.
Johnson County had 405 pharmacists at the end of 2018 and Linn County had 191, according to the 2019 report for the Iowa Pharmacists Tracking System. Nearby counties of Iowa, Jones, Tama, Cedar, Clayton, Allamakee, Louisa and Keokuk each had fewer than 10.
In October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services authorized states to let pharmacy technicians give the COVID-19 vaccine to expand access in areas with pharmacist shortages, said Anthony Pudlo, vice president of professional affairs for the Iowa Pharmacy Association. In Iowa, pharmacy students long have been allowed to administer vaccines under a supervising pharmacist.
'Pharmacy has always been involved in public health,” said Stevie Veach, clinical assistant professor in the UI College of Pharmacy. 'But this is our time to really partner with public health.”
The college has more than 300 students certified to give immunizations and will have another 100 in April after the first-year students complete their training. Students need these skills because community and hospital pharmacies hold flu shot clinics every year, said Laura Knockel, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy. There also is a movement to have community pharmacists administer shots for other diseases, such as shingles or human papillomavirus (HPV).
But the COVID-19 vaccines are different - both from more common immunizations and from each other. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored in ultracold freezers, diluted before administration and have a second dose 21 days later. The Moderna vaccine does not have to be diluted, but once the vials are punctured, it must be administered within six hours. And a second dose comes 28 days later.
Not only do pharmacy students have to learn how to administer vaccines, but they have to learn how to communicate with patients about how vaccines improve public health and about potential side effects.
Mike Deninger, co-owner of Towncrest Pharmacy in Iowa City, said he was glad to have a half-dozen UI pharmacy students help at a clinic Friday afternoon in Solon. The pharmacy's plan was to administer more than 1,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Friday and Saturday, which required dozens of volunteers in advance and at the clinic.
'In Iowa, there has been a decline in rural pharmacies,” Deninger said. 'Here in Solon, the drugstore closed and the Hy-Vee moved its files to Iowa City.” So Towncrest opened a branch in Solon a few years ago to fill the void, he said.
Iowa nursing students also have been involved in the vaccine rollout.
Kella Minteer, 34, a registered nurse at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, is getting her bachelor's degree in nursing at the UI. The Veterans Home partnered with Walgreens to administer the COVID-19 vaccine at the home, which houses more than 400 residents and has more than 900 staff.
Minteer and other staff vaccinated 91 percent of the residents and 62 percent of staff, she said. The team developed plans for scheduling patients so no doses were wasted and monitoring patients afterward while maintaining social distancing.
'Two days I spent with the staff to help them get vaccinated while my partners were on the unit,” Minteer said. 'It takes a lot of coordination, a lot of planning. I'm very, very proud of how IVH has succeeded with it.”
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