Some got misty-eyed. Many felt a moment of elation. Virtually all visitors sensed the shedding of an emotional weight – a feeling that freer, happier days lie ahead.
The collective mood in Ed 2 South was buoyant as the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus rolled out its point of distribution (POD) of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The clinic is open by appointment to all CU Anschutz employees and students not previously extended vaccination invitations through our hospital partners, as well as family members, on a first-come, first-served basis.
Ethan Carter, PhD, director of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), beamed as he watched chairs fill, sleeves roll and cheerful people proudly wearing “I Got My COVID-19 Vaccine!” stickers on April 7, just a few days after the POD opened.
Nursing student and volunteer Shayla Lovato administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of Meleah Himber, outreach coordinator for the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, at the Ed 2 South clinic on April 7.
“Hundreds of person hours from a variety of organizations across campus went into this,” Carter said. “The School of Pharmacy, College of Nursing, School of Medicine, Colorado School of Public Health, School of Dental Medicine, EHS, CU Anschutz Police, OIT (Office of information Technology), campus leadership, Facilities, other support organizations. It’s really a multi-disciplinary event – planning and execution – to pull this off.”
Volunteers make it happen
The plan is to vaccinate 4,000 people by early May, and this ambitious goal would not be attainable if not for scores of volunteers – students, faculty and staff – jumping into the historic effort. Appointment slots have filled up – both today (April 14) and Thursday are slated as full – but the clinic may be able to take a limited number of walk-ins.
On a mid-week afternoon at the POD, half the volunteers in both the registration and vaccination areas were students. “The student effort is making this possible,” Carter said.
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CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman stopped in to thank the volunteers and POD organizers. “This makes me really proud,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time. Hundreds of people have been involved in trying to get this where it is today, and I can’t thank every one of them enough.”
Just over an hour into their first shift, student volunteers Shayla Lovato and Megan Perry, both in their final semester for Bachelor of Science degrees in the College of Nursing, were greeted by palpable warmth from those getting vaccinated. “It’s definitely a very emotional response – it’s awesome,” Lovato said.
‘End this thing’
Lovato works part time as an advanced care partner at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. “I’ve been down to the COVID unit (at the hospital), and so to be able to give vaccines and end this thing is really cool,” she said.
Perry said the first woman she vaccinated was close to tears. “She was like, ‘I think I’m going to cry.’ She didn’t actually cry, but was pretty excited.
“They’re just ready for it all to be over and to get back to normal – travel, do things, visit friends and family again,” Perry said.
Lovato said the POD volunteer schedule filled up so fast that “it was kind of hard to jump in.” Both nursing students hope to put in more shifts before the clinic wraps up in early May. Pfizer is a two-dose vaccine, so those who had their first shot at the CU Anschutz POD will return in three weeks for round two.
Likewise, the POD’s appointment schedule filled quickly. Meleah Himber, M.Ed, outreach coordinator for the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, said she feels lucky to have received the vaccine so soon. She received the email invite from CU Anschutz the day after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis opened the eligibility to everyone 16 and older, and was signed up within four minutes at the CU Anschutz vaccination site.
Normalcy on the horizon?
“It’s kind of freeing, I think, to not have as much background anxiety about the virus or getting other people sick as an asymptomatic carrier,” she said. She looks forward to not having to worry as much about transmitting the virus to senior participants at fitness classes she helps to lead.
Himber hasn’t seen her parents, who live in Pennsylvania, for over a year. “My mom is someone that would be at risk of complications (from COVID-19), so I’ve avoided visiting her and traveling.”
A cross-campus multi-disciplinary team planned and launched the CU Anschutz Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination point of distribution site. Pictured are just some of the many students, faculty and staff who contributed to the massive effort.
The syringes in red plastic cups on the vaccination tables are filled by Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences students handling staging duties in a room on the second floor of Ed 2. They transfer the refrigerated vaccine from trays of vials into the syringes.
Cody Coburn, occupational health division manager for EHS, has worked in tandem with Carter, campus leadership, volunteers and the state COVID-19 response since CU Anschutz rolled out its successful COVID-19 checkpoint system last May.
Coburn worked directly with state health officials on ordering vaccine for the POD. Should the clinic need even more vaccine vials, the Tri-County Health Department will augment supplies.
“This is kind of that perfect trifecta,” Coburn said. “We’ve had the contact tracing/case investigation, and then the testing and then finally our pinnacle is this vaccine. I think it’s so important that we’re part of this.”
Kiet Giang, a fourth-year pharmacy student who graduates in May, said he got vaccinated “pretty early on, and because of that I felt like I had an obligation to help out a bit and return the deed. So when these clinics pop up and I’m not too busy, yeah, I just came by to help.”
He said it has been fascinating to see how society has become more cognizant, and even quite focused, on the particulars of vaccine development and the clinical trial process. And now that various vaccines are being administered, “it’s spurring good conversations,” Giang said. “It’s like we’ve gone from a society that may not be as in tune with science to one that notices it a little bit more.”
‘A special community’
It will be hard not to notice how this POD – the “pinnacle” of the “perfect trifecta,” as Coburn aptly put it – played a key role in bettering the health of our campus community at this pandemic inflection point.
When the story of how CU Anschutz responded to COVID-19 is told, an overarching theme will be cross-collaboration.
All levels of campus have been involved, Elliman said, as he observed the POD’s smooth and cheerful operations. “It’s just a really wonderful thing to watch. It shows what a special community we have here.”
Photo at top: CU College of Nursing student and volunteer Megan Perry administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of Tyler Dunlap, a Facilities Management employee, at the CU Anschutz point of distribution clinic.