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UMass Medical School students to administer COVID-19 vaccinations for Worcester area

Graduate School of Nursing students training School of Medicine students to give intramuscular injections

UMass Medical School students are joining the “army of vaccinators” that Worcester Division of Public Health’s medical director, Michael Hirsh, MD, has called upon to get the COVID-19 vaccines to as many in the community as possible.

After being trained by nursing students, medical students will be able to administer vaccines to the waves of people needing them.

Leading the charge are students from the Graduate School of Nursing, who with the UMMS Wellness Committee, are training more than 150 School of Medicine students to administer the intramuscular injections. Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences representatives plan to support the effort by managing logistics such as scheduling, according to organizers.

Medical students will be able to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or other authorized vaccines to the waves of people needing shots, including first responders such as firefighters, police and ambulance personnel, and people in residential care facilities. Each vaccine recipient must receive two doses of the mRNA vaccines, a few weeks apart, to reach immunity.

UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael F. Collins and UMass President Marty Meehan say the student initiative at UMMS is a community health model that should be replicated across the country to form a COVID-19 Vaccine Corps. “The nation must not delay in utilizing this sizable group of motivated Americans who are ready, willing and able to step up to assist with the unprecedented vaccine campaign that will help to usher in the end of this pandemic,” Chancellor Collins and President Meehan said in an opinion piece published in the Boston Globe.

Dr. Hirsh, professor of surgery and pediatrics and assistant vice provost for wellness and health promotion at UMMS, said the goal is to get at least 65 to 70 percent of the community vaccinated. He said waiting for people to naturally acquire the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, to achieve immunity is not only deadly or seriously harmful to some, but also not effective.

“We’re learning that the kind of immunity you might get from an actual infection might not be as long term as people think,” he said. “We’re starting to see some people who got the disease in the spring coming back with a reinfection. And also, there’s this terrible, looming danger called the long hauler effect, in which people had mild cases of COVID in the spring but are coming back with an array of lung problems, cardiac problems, musculoskeletal weakness and neurological symptoms.”

Hirsh said, “Getting the virus is not the answer. Getting the vaccine, that’s the herd immunity we want to achieve.”

Health care staff have been working straight out since the pandemic began and many are at least temporarily unable to work because of exposure to the coronavirus. And since the virus is surging nationwide, there are no reserve nurses who could come in to help vaccinate. That’s where UMMS students will play a role, said Hirsh and others on the Wellness Committee.

“About five years ago, we trained a group of medical students to give intramuscular injections for the flu vaccination,” said Jill Terrien, PhD, ANP-BC, associate professor of nursing and associate dean of interprofessional and community partnerships in the GSN. “I teach a course in the fall semester where students are encouraged and required to get involved in the community and this seemed like a perfect fit.”

Dr. Terrien worked with SOM student representative to the Wellness Committee, Christopher Lee, SOM '22, and 13 GSN students who are registered nurses in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program to update some of the earlier work as a PowerPoint module that SOM students would take online before receiving practical training Jan. 9 at the Worcester Senior Center.

“It’s the moment that’s the motivator here,” said Lee, who is also a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society. “It means a lot to be able to step up in this way.”

Hirsh applauded the interdisciplinary teamwork of nurses leading the way to carry out a community public health campaign. “I think that’s one of the great things about the Medical School: It’s creating a new generation of providers that are going to be seamless, it’s all going to be about teams that work together well,” he said. “It’s practical and it’s the right thing for patients.”

“This project has helped us as DNP students to extend our knowledge of vaccines and immunizations to the local community,” said GSN student Paige Laperle. “Now more than ever, it has become crucial that we educate and encourage members of the community to get their immunizations. I am humbled to have the opportunity to convey this message to my peers and community, and hope that it ultimately helps to keep people safe and healthy.”

Related media coverage:
Telegram & GazetteWorcester Board of Health looks at issues surrounding vaccine rollout 
Worcester Business JournalUMass Medical School students to aid Worcester vaccination effort 
Telegram & Gazette: Worcester's 'army of vaccinators' heads to training this weekend, front lines Monday
WCVB-TV, Boston 25 News: UMass Medical School students to administer COVID-19 vaccine

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Chancellor Collins and President Meehan call for COVID-19 Vaccine Corps in Boston Globe op-ed
Student-led virtual wellness program provides companionship to older, hospitalized COVID patients