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‘Rise to the challenge’: WSU nursing, pharmacy students volunteer to administer COVID-19 vaccine

John McLain has had his share of practice with flu shots as a student at the Washington State University College of Nursing.

The COVID-19 vaccine, however, is “just such a bigger caliber,” he said.

“It’s a historic thing,” said McLain, who is among upward of 100 WSU nursing and pharmacy students to date helping vaccination sites administer coronavirus vaccines throughout the region.

WSU is partnering with area pharmacies, health care providers and county public health districts – particularly in Spokane and Whitman counties – to coordinate student efforts at vaccination sites on a volunteer basis or through clinical assignments, college officials said.

“Especially as young nurses, we really haven’t had a big impact or a big footprint on health care, but this is a great place to start,” McLain said. “I think all of us are pretty dedicated to helping people, and this is probably the biggest thing we’ve been able to do yet.”

Daryll DeWald, WSU Health Sciences vice president and chancellor for WSU Health Sciences Spokane, said faculty are also volunteering to administer the vaccine and, in some cases, supervise volunteering students. DeWald said students will likely participate in the Spokane Arena mass vaccination event scheduled this week.

While WSU campuses are not vaccination sites, DeWald said the university is working to retrofit the Range Community Clinic mobile unit for various inoculations, including COVID-19 vaccines.

“From student and faculty time spent administering the vaccine, to our researchers’ expertise in identifying and filling gaps related to its equitable distribution, I am very proud that our campus is able to step up in this way,” DeWald said in a statement. “When you consider the community-based nature of many of our programs and our land-grant tradition of service to society, we are right where we need to be.”

McLain is among a number of nursing students who have volunteered at the Summit Cancer Centers location in North Spokane.

McLain, Hailey Hostetter, Jonathan Mendoza and Yana Lisovenko spent one particular Friday earlier this month administering vaccines to more than 100 people as supervised by faculty member Julie Hunter. Vaccinated themselves, all four are in their final year at the College of Nursing.

“During our clinicals and stuff, we’ve also seen people who have COVID and the treatment and what they have to go through,” Lisovenko said. “It’s a great way to minimize that.”

Hunter said the COVID-19 effort continues the College of Nursing’s “long history” of community partnerships.

“I think the COVID response, we’re really trying to rise to the challenge because it’s kind of a double-win for us. We’re helping and we’re also giving out experience,” she said. “These nursing students are so competent that they’re easy to supervise.”

Summit Cancer Centers’ two vaccination sites in North Spokane and Spokane Valley have vaccinated close to 4,000 health care workers to date, said Dr. Arvind Chaudhry, director of Summit Cancer Centers.

High-risk health care workers are part of Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination rollout. Beyond health care workers, Summit Cancer Centers is only offering the Moderna vaccine to qualifying current Summit patients and their spouses if eligible.

As a cancer research institute, Summit Cancer Centers has the freezers and other infrastructure capable of storing COVID-19 vaccines. As such, Chaudhry said Summit physicians were eager “to be front and center” with vaccinations – particularly in the interest of their patients.

“A lot of my patients have succumbed to COVID-19 while they’ve had cancer,” Chaudhry said. “We also offered that we would not only vaccinate just our patients; we would open it up to the community.”

Once approved through the state Department of Health, Summit reached out to WSU’s College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences for help, Chaudhry said. Nursing students were in place around the start of January, while WSU pharmacy students started last week, he said.

Summit Cancer Centers now offers vaccinations by appointment Monday through Friday, with Saturdays available at the North Spokane location. Chaudhry said Summit may soon have more volunteers to help through the colleges of medicine at WSU and the University of Washington.

As for the current crop, Chaudhry said WSU students have been energetic, enthusiastic and well-received by Summit’s patients.

“This is a once-in-a-generation event,” he said, “and we all need to roll up our sleeves – literally – and not only get vaccinated, but help people get vaccinated.”