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A FEMA-nominal experience

  • UMES pharmacy school volunteers administered COVID-19 vaccines in Norfolk, Va.

    Thursday, May 27, 2021

    By Randi Wright, Michelle Yang & Dr. Hoai-An Truong

    When most people think of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes spring to mind. 

    As the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the globe, FEMA's approach to public health crises expanded to a much broader inclusion of healthcare professions. Starting in late March, the agency collaborated with the Department of Defense, U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard to coordinate mass vaccination efforts across the country, with one such clinic operating 120 miles south of Princess Anne in Norfolk, Va. 

    The week following UMES' 2021 spring commencement -- May 17 through May 22 -- we had the opportunity to serve alongside individuals from various professions, backgrounds and states, including pharmacists, physicians, nurses, paramedics and emergency medical technicians from various federal agencies or volunteers from the private sector. 

    We worked as volunteer vaccinators at the mass vaccination clinic and were also assigned to visit remote sites in underserved areas of Norfolk and neighboring Hampton, Va.  We went to churches, high schools and jails in those communities. 

    Over the past 2½ months, this mass vaccination effort delivered more than 75,000 inoculations in the Tidewater, Va. area, including 310 vaccines that we were able to administer.       

    This FEMA deployment provided us ample opportunity to address patient care in a public health emergency response setting in a variety of ways.  As immunizers, we encountered and worked to reconcile vaccine hesitancy and trypanophobia -- “fear of the needle” -- through providing education and demonstrating compassion. 

    As members of the pharmacy profession, we contributed to the vaccine preparation, quality control and administration of the two-step Pfizer vaccine, as well as the single-dose counterpart produced by Johnson & Johnson.

    This has been such a rewarding experience, not only from the benefits delivered to the community, but also through the connections with pharmacy colleagues from across the country we made along the way. 

    FEMA's COVID-19 Vaccine Mission broadened our understanding of what it means to provide patient care on a national scale during a public health emergency.

    This FEMA deployment provided a hands-on opportunity to take knowledge and skills from the classroom and apply them in the real world -- and underscored pharmacists' role and contributions to "population health" during a global pandemic.

    Meet the authors:   

    Randi Wright is a 3rd-year PharmD candidate in UMES' School of Pharmacy & Health Professions, who by participating in the vaccination clinic, fulfilled a part of her Public Health - Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience rotation, an elective under the supervision of Dr. Hoai-An Truong, PharmD, MPH, FAPhA, FNAP. 

    Michelle Yang, also a 3rd-year PharmD candidate, participated in her role as a former president of UMES' student chapter of American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which nationally assisted FEMA in identifying volunteers.