More than 300 students attending the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith will have the option to receive the COVID-19 vaccination on Monday, January 11, thanks to a partnership between Coleman Pharmacy and the UAFS College of Health Sciences. In addition to students, Health Sciences faculty, instructors, and support staff who have not been vaccinated in regional hospitals and clinics will also be able to receive the vaccination.
In line with the Accelerated vaccination timeline provided by the Arkansas Department of Health, students, faculty and staff in the UAFS College of Health Sciences are considered front-line workers due to their clinical hours spent in healthcare settings. During the current Phase 1-A, which ADH experts expect to extend through the end of the month, vaccines are to be distributed to health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and high priority first-responders in EMS, fire and law enforcement.
“It is so important at this time to get vaccinated,” explained Dr. Lynn Korvick, Interim Dean of the College of Health Sciences. “The welfare of our patients depends on a healthy workforce, and this is one step towards ensuring that is possible.”
“Our December nursing graduates anxiously looked forward to their graduation so they could step up and do their part to fight the virus, and we know our current students are looking into the future and into their clinical practice with the same vigor. The once in a life-time opportunity to serve on the front lines of a global pandemic will stay with these health care providers, and their stories of slaying this virus will surely be passed along to future generations.”
All of the 300+ students studying in Health Sciences fields at UAFS and 60 full and part-time employees of the college will be eligible to receive the vaccine, said Korvick.
“Nursing is more than a job, it is a calling,” said Dr. Paula Julian, Executive Director of the UAFS nursing program. “Nurses are the heartbeat of healthcare and the COVID- 19 vaccine is a shot of hope.”
“The vaccine is not just for me for, but for the people around me,” said UAFS nursing student Stephanie Reyes. “I missed seeing family over the holidays and I’m hoping the vaccine will allow me to see them soon.” In addition to the safety of those around her, Reyes will also benefit from protection in her clinical experiences. “Educationally, the vaccine will allow me to participate in clinical with more hands on experience.”
“I find it essential to be willing to take a vaccine that can help reduce the numbers of those with COVID,” added Merideth Dooly, another UAFS nursing student who spent her summer working in a COVID. “Seeing patients who are suffering from the virus causes me to have very strong feelings towards getting vaccinated.”
Like Reyes, Dooly noted the personal and professional benefits of being vaccinated. “Not only do I feel the need to get vaccinated for my patients but I feel like it is essential for the well-being of my own family. COVID numbers keep rising every day, and the only way to stop this virus is by getting vaccinated.”
To those concerned about the vaccine, Dr. Julian urged, “Trust the science. As first line workers and real-life heroes, it is essential that we protect the health and safety of healthcare workers, but also our families, patients, and community.”
The UAFS students and staff who are vaccinated Monday will need a follow-up dose of the vaccine in three weeks to be considered immune to the virus. This follow up is scheduled for Feb. 1, but students who miss the initial vaccination date will have the option to have their first dose during this session as well. Generally, vaccinated individuals are considered protected 7-14 days following their second dose of the vaccine, so the burden of the virus may not be significantly relieved until the second doses are administered.
"Coleman Pharmacy has been working over the past week vaccinating frontline healthcare workers from the moment we received vaccines. This has included physicians, nurses, and first responders, all of whom are currently listed as phase 1A,” said Cody Turner, pharmacist and manager of Coleman Pharmacy.
Turner also noted that strict adherence to the Arkansas Department of Health phased approach is important to making sure the most venerable populations and those who care for them are quickly vaccinated. “Please understand that we are working to move through the phases as efficiently as we can,” Turner said.
In addition to the vaccine, Coleman will be provide two pharmacists and a pharmacy tech to help administer the vaccines, while UAFS will provide employees to conduct initial screenings, verify identity, and monitor patients.
Those vaccinated during this session will not be required to pay for the vaccine, and there will be no out of pocket charges to anyone who cannot provide insurance coverage.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health vaccination schedule, all faculty and staff at UAFS should be eligible to receive the vaccine during Phase 1B, which is expected to begin in February. Vaccine supply remains limited, but deliveries are expected to continue throughout the month, enabling the phased distribution.