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USJ Students Assisting West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District with Vaccinations

University of Saint Joseph student nurse Savanna Toce (right) administers a dose of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at West Hartford Town Hall on March 4. Nursing supervisor Lindsey Lawton assists. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Students in health care disciplines from the University of Saint Joseph have been trained to assist at vaccination clinics, and were giving Moderna vaccines at a clinic at West Hartford Town Hall Thursday.

From left: USJ Nursing student supervisor Lindsey Lawton, nursing student Oluwaseyi Fabiyi, nursing student Justine Middleton, Mayor Shari Cantor, USJ President Rhona Free, nursing student Savanna Toce, nursing student Brianna Tuohy, and State Rep. Kate Farrar at the vaccination clinic at West Hartford Town Hall, Thursday, March 4. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

The student nurses from the University of Saint Joseph know they are helping make history, and feel privileged to have an important role in the efforts to vaccinate the population and put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s so great … it’s something that we will always remember, and tell our grandchildren in the future,” said Savanna Toce, a senior nursing student from Columbia, CT, moments after she had administered a dose of the Moderna vaccine.

“We were here two weeks ago,” said Justine Middleton, a senior in USJ’s undergraduate nursing program, but that time the students were just working at the intake station. Thursday at Town Hall, she was able to actually administer vaccines.

University of Saint Joseph student nurse Savanna Toce (right) prepares to administer a dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at West Hartford Town Hall Thursday, along with student nurse Justine Middleton (center). Nursing supervisor Lindsey Lawton ( left) assists. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“I gave a couple this morning, and we rotate out with each other,” Middleton said.

“We’ve been blessed to have this position,” said Lindsey Lawton, supervisor of the student nurses. “Just to stand on the front lines … everybody’s been happy. We’re so ready for this pandemic to be over so to contribute toward that is big.”

About 275 people from throughout the area had registered through the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) to receive either a first or second dose of the Moderna vaccine March 4 at Town Hall, said Aimee Krauss, director of the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, which ran clinic.

“We have pharmacy students, nursing students, and [physician assistant] students out in the community volunteering at the vaccination clinics and at the testing sites,” said Dr. Rhona Free, president of the University of Saint Joseph. She visited the clinic at West Hartford Town Hall Thursday morning, along with West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, to get a first hand look at how the process works.

This wasn’t the first vaccination clinic the USJ students helped at, or the first time they have helped in a key role combatting the pandemic, Free said. Among the other places they have volunteered, students were at a large clinic at Dunkin Donuts Park a few weeks ago. “They’ve been out doing testing since last fall, and as soon as the vaccinations were available they were out at the clinics.”

Free said the pharmacy and nursing students were trained in how to do injections as part of their degree programs, but they also received specialized training to administer the COVID-19 vaccines because of the extra risk of transmission.

“It’s a great experience for the students to be able to be a part of this. It will be so memorable. They will remember all their lives, the students who were here today administering these vaccinations, that they helped with the vaccinations during the pandemic of 2020-2021,” Free said.

USJ has about 250 undergraduate nursing students, 150 in the PA program, and about 180 in pharmacy. Once the students are in their second year “they are out doing something in the community,” Free said.

USJ has had a nursing program for many years, but the other healthcare degree programs are more recent additions. The PA program is in its third year, and the pharmacy program is in its ninth or 10th year, Free said.

“We are in a place where it gives us hope and honestly there’s nothing better than young people stepping in and being so excited to provide the assistance, being helpful, wanting to nurture people and make them feel better,” West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor said. “It really inspires me, all these young nurses going into the system who care so much about taking care of others. It’s really exciting.”

University of Saint Joseph President Dr. Rhona Free (left), West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor (center), and state Rep. Kate Farrar visited a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Town Hall on Thursday. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The state’s vaccination program is moving as quickly as possible, and Free said she is glad that USJ students, and staff, are doing everything they can. “We realize how critical it is to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible so as a university we are delighted to do anything we can to help with that effort.”

The students who are involved in clinical experiences have already been vaccinated, Free said. She said all of the Gengras Center faculty and School for Young Children faculty are getting vaccinated in the next week. Everyone else will be receiving vaccines as they become age eligible – and Free said she received her first dose on Wednesday.

Toce said she received the Pfizer vaccine a few weeks ago, and it makes her feel safer being in the clinical environment. She’s been recently doing a rotation at Hartford Hospital, but has also been at locations throughout the state.

Cantor said she met a few of the trainees at a previous clinic when they were mostly just observing. “They were really excited to participate in this real life, historic, healing of our country,” she said.

“I want to urge people, when it’s your turn, get vaccinated, and wear masks and practice proper protocols. We’re going to get there,” Cantor said.

Moderna vaccine. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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