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Watch now: For some Auburn University students, hands-on training means giving COVID-19 vaccination shots

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Trae Anderson has given countless shots. Marion Colvin has given countless shots. Yet there they stand inside Beard Eaves Coliseum at Auburn University, preparing to administer more shots to healthcare workers, student, and faculty against COVID-19.

“We’re certified to give immunizations at the start of our second year,” said Colvin, a 25-year-old fourth-year Harrison School of Pharmacy student. “Auburn has done a great job at preparing us.”

But, she said, “I was kind of nervous on my first day – this is such a huge thing happening on campus.”

Anderson, a 22-year-old nursing student planning to go into pediatrics or critical care, agreed saying, “It’s an honor and a privilege” to actively participate in Auburn University’s vaccine rollout.

By the end of their first shifts in January, Colvin and Anderson have administered “countless” shots, joining a group of student nurses and pharmacists from Auburn University who are gaining field experience at a time when there’s a demand for healthcare professionals trained to administer vaccines.

The call to action came before the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Lee County: Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy, College of Nursing and Masters in Social Work Program collaborated together, tapping into an equipped and eager population of student professionals who could help.

“I know everybody is tired of wearing a mask and all these other things that we’re having to do to protect each other, but this small, 15 minutes of your day will make it to where one day we don’t have to worry about masks,” Anderson said. “Doing your part gets us there sooner rather than later.”

Anderson finished an externship in July, suiting up in full Professional Protective Equipment (PPE) gear to rotate in critical care dealing with COVID-19 cases that made the effects of the virus “very real.” But in his final semester, he picks up shifts vaccinating hundreds of people, putting his education into practical application.

“This vaccine is administered the same way as other intramuscular shots—getting into that deltoid [an upper arm triangular shoulder muscle], and making sure it’s in the right placement is standard,” Anderson said.

Colvin said the mechanics of the COVID-19 vaccine clinic are standard procedure too: A room—in this case, an old basketball arena—is set up with multiple stations. People get screened before entering the double doors, they receive the shot, you observe them for signs of an adverse reaction, and then you move on to the next in line.

“This is supposed to be the standard of care for all vaccinations—waiting 15 minutes,” Colvin said. But as with many processes today, inoculating hundreds a day during a pandemic doesn’t feel standard.

Students help the third-floor vaccination site in other ways as well, sanitizing surfaces between shots, looking out for reactions and clearing patients to go home. When Melissa Dennis asked one of her Masters of Social Work Program professors how she could help, she wasn’t the only one: the department offered aid in the beginning of the summer when things were “still kind of shaky.”

“Right now it’s as smooth as I’ve seen it,” said the 23-year-old, who hands out the required vaccination record and helps people move in and out in a timely manner.

Each student’s willingness comes as the pandemic halted healthcare students' work experience and moved their education primarily online. When the pandemic disrupted their in-person clinicals in March, the major question was if the experience would transition to virtual. It did.

That proved difficult, as nursing and pharmacy students must complete a required number of clinical hours. Whereas some universities choose to use students on a volunteer basis when vaccinations arrived, Auburn built it into the discipline’s curriculum, knowing the experience directly relates to their work post-Auburn.

“Most pharmacies don’t have the vaccine [now], but the goal is to ultimately get it there,” said Colvin, who recently accepted a role at a CVS in Montgomery. “Through this experience, I know I will be more informed (than) other pharmacy students and pharmacies that didn’t have this experience.”

All three students received their first dose of the vaccine—at the hands of their classmates, an experience they describe as “incredible.” Pharmacy student Alexander Ellison, 24, said he was “beyond impressed” with his classmates and was “thrilled” and “blessed” to receive his first dose Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve been waiting for this vaccine, waiting for this vaccine and then when you got your first dose, you’re like ‘it’s really happening’” Colvin said. “You see the light at the end of the tunnel and you start thinking about a world where COVID-19 isn’t the first thing on everyone’s mind.”

As daughters, sons, siblings, grandchildren and friends, the students see the vaccination as “a big step at getting us back to where we were before.”

“Some people don’t have to worry about COVID-19, but others really do; it’s a concern for them,” said Dennis, who interns at East Alabama Medical Center’s Diabetes and Nutrition Center. “I’m with people who have chronic conditions, and I want to make sure I’m doing my part to help the people that have those underlying conditions be OK.”

“The more people I vaccinate, the more I’m thinking that’s more people in the community offering some kind of protection,” Colvin said.

“I’ve been in clinics dealing with patients who are battling COVID-19 and fighting for their lives, so being at something like this, it’s a glimmer of hope.”

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