Julie Young, UNLV Medicine executive vice president of operations, remembers receiving a call from UNLV emergency management saying discussions needed to take place about administering vaccinations that soon would be greenlighted for use in the United States to NHSE personnel, students, and family members.
According to Young, no one realized then how big a role UNLV Medicine would play in the vaccination program that began in January.
Soon a UNLV Medicine-led team, composed of both UNLV medical students and nursing students from UNLV, CSN, and Nevada State, as well as UNLV Medicine staff, was providing shots in arms not only to NSHE personnel but also to health care workers, police services, and Clark County School District employees. For a while, vaccinations were given through UNLV Medicine both at the UNLV Student Union and the CSN Henderson campus. That changed when it was determined UNLV Medicine could administer just as many shots at one venue.
“The initiative came together very quickly, in a month,” Young said. “The support of UNLV to not only use the Student Union but provide full facilities support was critical to opening promptly. The NSHE nursing schools we reached out to helped coordinate clinical needs quickly. An extensive requirements list (generated by public health officials) was used to ensure all supplies, medical requirements, governmental requirements, and vaccine specifications were met.”
100,000 and counting
Today, UNLV Medicine’s involvement in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has expanded. Vaccinations now are given to all eligible people in Southern Nevada. More than 100,000 doses have been administered.
“A lot of logistical planning has gone on,” Young said. “It really does take a village to make something like this happen. Without the staff driven by the passion to make a difference, without the students and volunteers, this initiative could never have happened.
“Nobody was more important than anybody else. There was no hesitation when they knew they’d be working long hours, on weekends making appointments. Nobody complained. They really believed that what they did each day kept somebody else from getting sick, from dying. They really felt the mission.”
To prepare the vaccines for use each day, to make the shots in arms happen safely, Young leans on about 70 individuals, from volunteers to staff, who do everything from mixing a vaccine with a saline solution and registering patients in an electronic medical system to actually vaccinating patients and monitoring them in waiting areas for possible reactions. Volunteers from NSHE nursing programs, as well as representatives from a private nursing school, are generally on hand. Volunteers also come from the UNLV Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, UNLV School of Dental Medicine, other colleges and departments through UNLV and NSHE, as well as the community. Every day, before patients are seen, professional providers must be on hand to review with vaccinators the proper way to administer the vaccine. Physicians are also on hand to talk with patients about underlying conditions that could be a cause for concern.
Young says UNLV Medicine staff have helped the vaccination program mature into a smooth operational unit. Christie Putman manages the site, volunteers, and registration, creating coordination between registration and the clinical team. Debra Sorensen co-manages the site, oversees the support for all electronic medical record functions, and coordinated volunteers. Michael Arausa makes sure registration staff are up and running. Kevin Ray coordinates the staffing of students and participates in non-clinical support functions. Theresa Nolan, Christine Rios, Tina Galindo, and Lorena Ware manage vaccine inventory, help prepare vaccines, and provide clinical oversight with UNLV Wellness, UNLV Pharmacy, and Sherri Lindsey, CSN nursing program chair.
The vaccines that UNLV Medicine administers — first, just Pfizer and then both Pfizer and Moderna — are stored in special refrigeration systems away from the vaccination site. Visible police escorts are not uncommon when vaccines are transported to and from the site. Young said security concerns range from people stealing the vaccines to make money to people who oppose all vaccinations.
Young isn’t surprised that UNLV Medicine’s role in the vaccination program continues to grow. Health officials considered the curbside testing program for COVID-19 by UNLV Medicine in the Las Vegas Medical District a success.
Through donations, Dr. Michael Gardner secured an extra cold freezer to handle the especially complex Pfizer vaccine well before vaccination programs were up and running in Southern Nevada; that helped show how serious UNLV Medicine was in wanting to engage in the vaccination battle against COVID-19.
“Our relationship with the Southern Nevada Health District just gets stronger,” Young said. “We are true partners.”
The logistics of running such a large vaccination effort are complicated, she said, noting it involves a variety of issues, including knowing how many patients are expected each day, which volunteers are needed on any given day, who to call if scheduled volunteers don't show up, and how to direct patients to the correct lines and provide them with vaccine and privacy information. Initially, four people were registering patients but that number has grown to 12.
What was particularly difficult, Young said, was dealing with people who stood in long lines for a shot but weren’t in the correct state-sanctioned tier (age or job) for vaccinations at the time. “Of course, we want to see that everybody gets vaccinated but our hands were tied at the time and some people got very emotional.”
She's pleased to see UNLV's site now open to anyone age 18 and older with a government-issued ID, and walk-ins are welcome.
The vast majority of those vaccinated through UNLV Medicine have appreciated the staff’s attention to detail, sending emails of thanks for running a well-coordinated program.
“Thank you for posting the link for UNLV vaccine sign-up,” one person wrote. “I signed up last night thinking it would be a couple of months but at least I was on a list. When I woke this morning there was an email telling me to sign up for an appointment. I started crying. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly signed up and now have my first dose. I feel relieved and hopeful now, all because of you. You are a gem and I’ll never forget this.”
Another patient wrote, “Your operation was simply fantastic. Super well-organized and everyone was super-nice.”
Young is understandably proud of the UNLV Medicine vaccination program.
“The staff, volunteers, and students have all dedicated their time, efforts, and passion every day to ensure we are providing a vaccine service that will result in a healthier population and ultimately return Southern Nevada to its lively, vibrant self.”