Pharmacy students take on a ‘hands-on’ role
How were students involved in the rollout of high stakes vaccination in Australia?
Alex Vo is 21 years old. He’s a Monash pharmacy student in his fourth year – and, suddenly, also a key infantryman in the COVID-19 vaccine deployment in Australia.
He works hard during strenuous two-hour periods, takes a break and works a little more, preparing vaccines for injection. The attention to detail and the fine precision of his role impose these frequent pauses on him. He works with the vaccine vials as if they were gems – which, in a sense, they are.
His job – while on a fourth-year internship at Royal Melbourne Hospital – is to prepare AstraZeneca vaccines so the hospital’s health workers can be protected. He works in a refurbished ephemeral preparation room of the old hospital library, alongside a team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and technicians.
State government regulations – changed only in February – mean fourth-year pharmacy students can now do this kind of high-stakes work.
In a hallway and a few street corners, Pfizer vaccines are also being prepared. Pharmacy students – Alex is part of a team of 16 – are also trained to prepare them, but it’s an even more complicated and demanding process.
The training required in the Commonwealth, state and hospitals was extensive, including online and hands-on elements.
The opportunity for Alex and his fellow students (on internship and also employed as part of the hospital’s “back-up”) is immense.
“Maybe it’s once in a lifetime,” he says. “How many times will I be actively involved in a pandemic like this?” I know I am responsible for helping others get vaccinated. I am practical. “
Monash students are not doing the vaccination as they can in some parts of Australia.
Ethan Kreutzer, a postgraduate pharmacy student at Monash, is president of the National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association (NAPSA), and has lobbied the governments of Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territories to allow students administer the vaccines.
Call for broader change
Professor Tina Brock, Monash School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, said trained pharmacy students at all levels at a Colorado school of pharmacy in the United States administered 33,000 vaccines in 13 weeks. “I’m proud of what our students are doing,” she says, “but I also want to keep the pressure on for broader change.”
Instead, they prepare the vaccines, which is an exercise in itself. Watching this preparation is like watching a choreography – it can almost sound like tai chi movements.
“It might be once in a lifetime. How many times will I be actively involved in a pandemic like this? I know I am responsible for helping others get vaccinated. I am practical. “
The Pfizer vaccine arrives at the hospital in a multi-use vial that has already been thawed in another hospital. The vial is gently “inverted”, which means that the student preparing it should wave it in a slow arc in the air in front of him, upside down and right side up, 10 times.
Then a specific amount of liquid saline solution is added and the same amount of air is removed. This keeps the pressure in the vial in sync with the pressure outside the vial, so that there are no leaks. Then the student begins another set of 10 milder inversions of the diluted vial. Only then is exactly 0.3 ml ready to be drawn into the syringes for administration.
This rhythmic process is carried out in a temporary pharmacy behind glass partitions in plain view of those waiting to be vaccinated.
This “transparency” is important, says Professor Brock.
“It was a brilliant decision on the part of the Royal Melbourne pharmacy department to say, ‘If you’re worried, we invite you to watch us do this,’ she said. “’We’ll show you it’s safe and secure. We are not in camera. We show you that getting vaccinated is the right step to take. ”
Despite significant logistical, commercial and public health challenges related to the vaccine rollout in Australia, work at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and many other vaccination centers in Victoria continues. As of April 15, 155,928 Victorians had been vaccinated with the two doses required from hospitals.
The main problem in April was the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is by far the most widely available. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI) has told the federal government that the Pfizer vaccine is preferred for people under the age of 50 because of the risk of a rare but serious side effect of blood clotting with the AstraZeneca product.
Some of the country’s original 10 million doses of Pfizer have already been used in the first phase of the rollout – elderly care, frontline health workers and hotel quarantine staff. The government has purchased an additional 20 million doses, but they are not expected to be ready until at least October.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, meanwhile, although originally imported, is now manufactured by pharmaceutical company CSL in Melbourne. Other vaccines could be available in Australia later this year.
The Royal Melbourne Hospital also operates the vaccination center at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Center. This site also prepares the vaccine doses under transparent glass.
“The partnership between Royal Melbourne Hospital and Monash University’s Faculty of Pharmacy is an important part of rolling out a successful immunization program,” says hospital pharmacy director Paul Toner, who oversaw integration of pharmacy students into the vaccine workforce. . “The situation changes regularly, but it’s business as usual for us.”
Read more: In their own words: Internships put students on the front line of COVID-19
Monash students have a lot to do every day. Shifts start early. The level of detail required in the job is astounding, from careful storage, shredding the packages to avoid the potential for counterfeiting, then, of course, extracting the liquid gold into syringes, paying attention to waste and taking into account each drop.
“I wouldn’t have wished for a global pandemic to spur change,” says Professor Brock, “but when we have innovative partners like the Royal Melbourne Hospital Department of Pharmacy inviting our students to help us, it shows that they can contribute to public health.
“How many real world can you get?” she asks, looking through the glass at the students at work. “The classroom is interesting, but it’s real.”
This article was originally published by the Lens publication of Monash University. Read the original article here