On Dec. 16, 2020, Erika Tabke, clinical assistant professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Nursing, made history by administering the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Central Texas. The day before, UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of Dell Medical School at UT Austin, received the first shipment of about 3,000 doses, making UT the first health care institution in Central Texas to receive the vaccine.
Health care providers, including students and faculty from UT’s School of Nursing, Dell Medical School and the College of Pharmacy, administered the vaccine to frontline health care workers at the UT Health Clinic. Nursing staff and volunteers at the School of Nursing’s Family Wellness Clinic did the same Dec. 28 through Feb. 5.
In anticipation of providing more people with the vaccine through a larger-scale distribution site, the university moved operations to Gregory Gym on Feb. 8.
Priority for people receiving the vaccine was based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which puts health care professionals and other high-risk groups at the front of the line. In early January, the COVID-19 vaccine was available to people 65 years and older and people 16 to 64 years of age with underlying health conditions. Through mid-February, more than 34,000 vaccinations were given. Currently, all adults age 16 and older are eligible for vaccination in Texas.
“Since UT Austin began administering vaccinations, we have served members of the UT Austin community and the UT Health Austin patient population simultaneously,” said Stephanie Morgan, co-leader of UT Austin’s COVID Vaccination Task Force. “We will continue our efforts to vaccinate current UT students, staff and faculty alongside the community, as quickly as allowed by vaccine supply, to ultimately help our community reach herd immunity.”
The long-awaited vaccine provides hope for not only the individuals receiving it, but also the many health care workers who have worked diligently to treat patients in hospitals and clinics.
“As a type-1 diabetic and health care provider, I’m overjoyed to be protecting myself, my patients, my family and my community,” said graduate student and soon-to-be pediatric nurse practitioner Victoria Wright, who received a vaccination on Dec. 18.
The rollout of the vaccination clinic belies the herculean effort involved in arranging staffing, storing vaccine at sub-zero degrees and maintaining COVID-19 pandemic safety guidelines both for individuals seeking the vaccination and health care staff providing it.
Morgan, professor of clinical nursing and director of the School of Nursing Wellness Center, described the intense effort to ensure the clinics would be ready for the first patients.
“Planning began shortly after receiving a call on Oct. 30 informing task force members that UT Austin had been designated one of the first sites to receive the vaccine, and delivery could be any day following the vaccine’s approval,” she said. “I, along with School of Nursing faculty Dr. Shalonda Horton, Dr. Ana Todd, and Dr. Li-Chen Lin, began rehearsing with colleagues from Dell Med and Pharmacy how the clinic would be set up and the flow of patients managed.”
When the vaccine arrived on Dec. 14, the team of faculty, alumni and students was ready, and the clinic opened the next day.
To help meet this challenge, on Jan. 1, the School of Nursing mobilized the UT Austin Medical Reserve Corps (UTMRC), which was developed by the school after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and addresses the university’s need to organize volunteers to assist in public health emergencies. The group ensures that clinics have sufficient staff to administer the vaccine, check in patients and manage the observation room, where patients are monitored for adverse reactions.
The vaccination team has seen how grateful people are to receive the vaccine.
“One man at the Family Wellness Clinic was so happy to get the vaccine, even though his daughter had told him not to because she believed we were injecting the actual virus,” one of the volunteers said. “I explained how the vaccine worked and that we were not injecting the virus itself. He told me that his brother had died in Amarillo the week before from COVID-19, and he was so motivated to protect himself.”
Team members have received support from across the board, and students are able to observe firsthand the interdisciplinary education they have received in the classroom.
“Our success would not be possible without the interprofessional collaboration of medical, pharmacy and social work faculty, students and alumni,” Morgan said. “Where those skills overlap, such as vaccination or mixing the vaccine, the team covers for each other as needed and have shown great concern for any possible burnout. We’ve never done anything like this before, but we’re in for the long haul.”