WSU pharmacy students get certified to give vaccines in time for flu season, eventual COVID-19 vaccine

SPOKANE, Wash. – It might be months until a COVID-19 vaccine comes out, but there are people ready to help.

For this semester, about 130 students with Washington University’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences are now certified to give out vaccines, just in time for flu season.

“When we’re learning on our own, in class, we kind of build ideas in our head,” explained Spencer Knudson, a student of the college.

On Friday, Knudson finally got hands-on, rather than thinking about scenarios in his head. Students with the college spent their last two Fridays with instructors in-person, despite the university being remote.

Friday was the first time some students saw their instructors, as they’ve been learning online. However, getting their certification to administer vaccines cannot be done virtually.

Students injected their partners with saline solutions as their professors watched and helped them through it.

“I’m always excited to be able to apply what I’m learning in school to a real life setting, and scenario and being able to help the community,” Knudson said.

Even though the school year started out differently, the certification process remained almost the same. It normally all happens in one day with more 100 students getting certified. Now, it takes double the amount of time because of the pandemic.

Stations are sanitized in between students coming in, and everyone wears PPE.

“It’s nice to be able to put it into practice because until you’ve physically done it and gone through the motions, it’s kind of hard to do something on the spot,” Knudson said.

Now that he and his classmates are certified, they’ll be able to go out and give flu shots immediately. Then – in the future – COVID-19 vaccines.

“It’s just making sure that we are ready. So, now we have this whole new group of student pharmacists who are ready to go out there and immunize their communities. So, that we’re ready when that vaccine does come, whether it’s two months, six months, we don’t know. We want to be ready for when that happens,” said Kimberly McKeirnan, an associate professor with the college.

Nicole Rodin, a clinical assistant professor, said it will be an “all-hands-on-deck” situation when the COVID-19 vaccines come out.

“This is going to take every member of the healthcare team. So, if we have our student pharmacists ready to do that, they can be an excellent resource for our health district and our current practicing pharmacists to aid in that, so we can get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” she said.

Rodin says many of their students already have internships with some pharmacies in the community. So, now they’ll be able to help give flu shots.

“We have a huge chunk of our students actually volunteering with the health district and other organizations and they provide mass amounts of immunizations every year, and this year is no different,” she said.

Knudson said he went into this profession to help people, so he’s excited to at least finally give them flu shots. Giving the COVID-19 vaccine, when it comes out, will feel the same way to Knudson, but at least then, he’ll be able to “actively combat the pandemic.”

“Learning to become a healthcare provider, it does feel kind of upsetting to feel like you can’t do anything to help, so when the COVID vaccine does role out, it’ll be nice to be able to feel like I’m applying my education to help people,” Knudson said.