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Sue Lim, Washington State University student and pharmacist assistant, talks to Norine Gonderman, left, after giving her a COVID-19 vaccine at Highgate Senior Living on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in Yakima, Wash.

As health organizations across the Yakima Valley work to make vaccines accessible to all who are eligible, local nursing, pharmacy and other students are pitching in to get those vaccines into community members’ arms.

Students at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, Heritage University, Central Washington University and Washington State University are involved in the effort. Some are serving as supply runners for health care staff. Others, who are qualified to administer vaccines, are injecting them.

It’s an opportunity to get real-life clinical experience and to help the community in a difficult time, said Juliana Murray, a Yakima native and Washington State University nursing student who administered vaccines at Kittitas Valley Health care last week.

“I really just feel so grateful that I’m able to do these things and get this experience and be a part of this,” she said. “(It’s) a great opportunity to help the community.

“Obviously it’s not a good feeling knowing that it’s hitting Yakima so hard,” she said of the pandemic. “But learning about it and being able to treat (people) better is a great feeling, too.”

Vaccine phases

The state Department of Health reported early last week that 9,318 vaccine doses have been given in Yakima County.

The state is in Phase 1B Tier 1, which means everyone 65 and older and those 50 and older in multigenerational households are eligible. Those who work in health care, first responders and staff and residents of long-term care centers also are eligible.

Residents should first check whether they are eligible for the vaccine by going to the state’s PhaseFinder tool (https://form.findyourphasewa.org/) and filling out the questionnaire. You can sign up for an email or text notification regarding vaccine eligibility.

The state’s COVID assistance hotline is 211 or 1-800-525-0127.

Those eligible for the vaccine should go to the Yakima Health District COVID-19 vaccine site at www.yakimacounty.us/2472/COVID-19-Vaccine. There, the Yakima Health District has an updated list of providers giving vaccines and how to set up appointments.

Administering the vaccine

In addition to health care workers at hospitals, clinics and pharmacies administering vaccines in the county, local health care students have offered their help.

WSU’s nursing program has a couple of students, including Murray, and a faculty member volunteering to give vaccinations through KVH in Ellensburg. The program expects to announce “much more robust” vaccine rollout participation in the next few weeks, said Addy Hatch, the program’s communications and outreach director.

The university’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences also has about 130 fourth-year students in clinical rotations across the country, including settings like Yakima and Spokane, according to the program’s communications director, Connie Young.

One WSU pharmacy student, Sue Lim, is working with Tieton Village Drugs and has administered vaccines to residents and staff of local long-term care facilities.

PNWU students also are lending their help across the various hospitals in five regional states they’re assigned to for clinical training, said Dr. Anita Showalter, PNWU’s associate dean for clinical education.

“Our students are very anxious to help with the frontline COVID battle in any way possible,” she said, adding that these efforts include both COVID-19 testing in communities and, more recently, vaccinations. “Each region has had a different roll-out strategy for vaccinations, and we have made our students available for the institutions that want to use them to assist.”

In the Tri-Cities, for example, PNWU students have assisted with the vaccination rollout at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, Showalter said.

Students in Heritage University’s School of Nursing are also rolling up their sleeves, said Linda Rossow, an assistant professor for the program. They’re offering help at Astria’s Toppenish hospital. Three seniors helped with administering vaccines early in the Yakima County rollout, she said, while 21 junior-year students are now rotating volunteer shifts there, injecting shots alongside health care workers.

Students are eager to participate, said Rossow, with more volunteers than openings on a given day.

“I said, ‘We’re just getting started. You’ll get your chance,” she said.

That could either be at the local hospital, or in administering vaccines down the road for residents of the Yakama Nation, which the university has a close relationship with, she said.

In Ellensburg, Central Washington University students are also part of the effort to get vaccines in community members’ arms.

“We already have some CWU students volunteering as runners for the Kittitas Valley Health care clinic,” said Kittitas County Public Health Department public information officer Kasey Knutson. “If there’s someone that’s vaccinating or someone monitoring patients or has another position where they can’t necessarily walk away from their role, a runner can do that. Like if someone vaccinating needs more supplies, or even something as simple as needing a pen.”

She said the health district also was in the process of arranging for CWU paramedic students to help with the vaccine rollout process. While that hadn’t been arranged yet, she said these students have the qualifications to administer vaccines themselves and can step into that role.

Future plans

Beyond CWU students, Knutson said the county health department had a “fantastic amount of volunteers.” Already, 80 volunteers from the community have been vetted to assist, and she said the number is growing.

While students in nursing programs at Yakima Valley College and Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center are not currently assisting with vaccine administration in the community, arrangements may be made later down the line, school officials said.

In the meantime, a large number of health care workers and students are working to free the community of COVID-19, one vaccine at a time.

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