UConn School of Pharmacy Joins State of Connecticut in COVID Immunization and Contact Tracing

The UConn School of Pharmacy is assisting the state's COVID-19 vaccine strategy in a variety of ways.

Students walking to and from the School of Pharmacy building on Oct. 3, 2018. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

In preparation for the first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine to the state, Connecticut’s health systems and hospitals are calling on immunization-certified pharmacists to administer vaccinations, as nurses and physicians grapple with the wave of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, staff shortages, and treatment demands. As of Sunday, there were 1,214 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Connecticut.

To address this challenge, qualified Connecticut pharmacists from every practice setting and career stage, including advanced students from the UConn School of Pharmacy, are gearing up to serve on the frontlines of this immunization effort.

Pharmacists are trained to immunize 

“Health system pharmacists are uniquely armed with the skills and tools to lead vaccine administration to healthcare personnel during the initial phase of COVID vaccine distribution in Connecticut,” says Kimberly Metcalf, Associate Vice President of Pharmacy and Ancillary Services of UConn Health. “Pharmacists understand the intricacies involved with storing, tracking, distributing, preparing, administering, and documenting vaccine quickly and accurately. They also have a clinical knowledge of how the vaccine works and the importance of its utilization. The profession is well poised to support this important public health initiative.”

School of Pharmacy students with face shields and masks demonstrate immunization techniques.
UConn School of Pharmacy students are trained and certified in immunizations, making them valued participants in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy. (UConn School of Pharmacy photo).

Because of the immediate need for a large number certified immunizers, along with career pharmacists, hospitals, and other facilities will be utilizing advanced student pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to patients and healthcare workers. UConn’s School of Pharmacy, for example, requires immunization certifications for all student pharmacists, and has over 350 students ready to help. The School’s Continuing Education office also runs a 21.5-hour class certifying pharmacists to give vaccines.

“The Office of Continuing Education is working closely with the Connecticut Department of Public Health to train and certify pharmacist immunizers and other health care professionals to administer the COVID-19 vaccine,” says Philip Hritcko, Dean of UConn’s School of Pharmacy. “More immunizers means that public access to vaccines can happen quickly once essential health care workers and high-risk patients are protected.”

Pharmacists Offer Help On Multiple Fronts 

Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont issued a new executive order allowing Connecticut pharmacists to administer FDA-approved or -authorized COVID vaccines to adult patients, as well as for patients over the age of 10.

Leading up to this newly expanded authority, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) issued a letter to community pharmacies, inviting them to participate in the Connecticut COVID-19 Vaccine Program.

“This executive order is a major win for Connecticut pharmacists and their patients. Our pharmacy community has been working with state regulators and officials to ensure that Connecticut pharmacists are equipped with the tools, the information, and the regulatory authority they need to administer COVID-19 vaccines safely,” says Nathan Tinker, CEO of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association. “We also applaud Gov. Lamont, DPH Commissioner Gifford, and DCP Commissioner Seagull for their efforts in putting the systems and protocols in place to allow pharmacists to order, administer, and report these vital immunization services not only for adults, but also for children over age 10.”

“For many people,  the pharmacy will be the easiest place to get the vaccine,” says Hritcko.

The UConn School of Pharmacy’s role in the vaccine effort reaches to the top of the state’s strategic planning, with associate professor Jennifer Girotto, a board-certified infectious disease pharmacist, being named to the governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, along with several other experts from across the University.

It isn’t just vaccines, though; pharmacy students have been involved in the state’s response to the pandemic already as contact tracers, and will continue to assist in that role in an effort to slow the transmission of the virus.