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Health and Medicine

Pharmacy students, residents administer first COVID-19 vaccines in Chapel Hill, Hillsborough

UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy students and residents participated in one of two key roles in the process: medication preparation or vaccination administration.

Autumn Petersen administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Brian Murray.
One of the first doses being administered by UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy MS student Autumn Petersen to Brian Murray, clinical pharmacist, at the UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill on Dec. 15. (Photo by Brian Strickland)

Six UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy learners took part in a historic day, preparing and administering the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough on Dec. 15.

“Right from the first year of their pharmacy program, our learners have intensive and comprehensive vaccine training. They are well prepared to help North Carolina’s medical centers distribute and administer this game-changing vaccine. I’m proud of their efforts and delighted that our profession is able to stand at the ready to put an end to this pandemic,” said Angela Kashuba, dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

School of Pharmacy students and residents participated in one of two key roles: medication preparation or vaccination administration. Students thawed, diluted and prepared, then labeled syringes and passed them on to vaccinators. Student vaccinators administered the vaccines and documented this information in the new COVID Vaccine Management System.

At the UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, Pharm.D. student Anastasia Borodai prepared the first dose of vaccine; while master’s student Charlie Summerlin administered the first vaccine; and master’s student Autumn Petersen served as a vaccinator for the first shift of the medical center clinic.

“I’m really hopeful for the future,” Summerlin said. “Today’s a really remarkable day and I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Summerlin administered the first COVID-19 vaccine to Loc Culp, Medical Intensive Care Unit clinical manager at the UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill. Culp added, “It’s the beginning of a healing period for all of us.”

About the experience of preparing the first dose of the vaccine in Chapel Hill, Borodai said, “To be honest, I felt both nervous and excited. This is the first time we aren’t just reacting to COVID-19 but are having a preemptive response to combat the disease. As a pharmacy student and an MPH, I think that’s simply amazing.”

At the UNC Hospitals Hillsborough Campus, master’s student and UNC Health resident Judith Lovince prepared the first dose of the vaccine; while pharmacy resident and School of Pharmacy Teaching Assistant Jordan Wallace administered the first vaccine dose; and Pharm.D. student Douglas Lasch served as vaccinator for the first shift of the clinic.

“To be part of this day was certainly an honor,” Wallace said. “It’s really important for me to be at an institution that understands the impact that I can make as a pharmacy resident and being able to give the first COVID-19 vaccine at UNC Hillsborough shows just that. A lot of us graduated pharmacy school in the beginning of this pandemic and wanted nothing more than to get into the workforce and help get the world through these tough times.”

Lovince added, “To be able to participate in this historic day is something I will always hold dear to my heart. We made history as all health care disciplines worked together to fight the spread of a disease that has taken the lives of so many. Preparing the first 15 doses of the vaccines yesterday let me know that I helped save 15 lives and I appreciate the opportunity UNC provided to allow pharmacy residents to lead the effort both at UNC Hillsborough and UNC Medical Center. This opportunity is just one of many reasons why I choose to complete my residency training at an institution such as UNC that understand the value pharmacy residents bring to the advancement of health care.”

Between the two locations, 27 doses were administered to individuals representing a diverse set of employees, including nurses, physicians, pharmacists, environmental services support personnel, and translators, among others, said Kamakshi Rao, assistant director of pharmacy at UNC Health and professor of clinical education at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

“Clearly, the arrival and administration of the first doses of COVID-19 vaccination marks an important turning point in our battle against this virus, which has taken the lives of far too many in our community and around the world,” Rao said.

But the work is far from over. Rao said students and residents, along with pharmacy staff, will continue supporting these clinic sites to ensure employees have easy access to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

Rao added, “We believe that pharmacists and pharmacy learners are poised and prepared to serve as integral members of the team that will make this ambitious vaccine campaign a reality. For our pharmacy students, there could be no greater opportunity right now to feel like they are making a truly invaluable contribution to our patients and our institution, and to understand the true front line role pharmacists and pharmacy technicians play in our health care environment.”