More than 1,400 Douglas County residents received a COVID-19 vaccination shot at the Rasmussen Center on Saturday.
Creighton University is one of four community partners working with the Douglas County Health Department to administer the vaccines. The county is currently vaccinating residents ages 75 and older by appointment only.
The interdisciplinary clinic was run by more than 200 Creighton student and faculty volunteers, according to Julie Manz, assistant dean of undergraduate programs in the College of Nursing.
“Normally, you’d have to bring in all these volunteers, but it was nice to be able to just reach out to those in our Creighton community, our workforce and our students because they have the expertise and the training,” said Tricia Sharrar, vice provost for academic administration and operations. “Because we’re a teaching and learning institution, we can kind of pop them into these different roles.”
Nonclinical volunteers were there to greet at the door, confirm appointments and direct people through checkpoints on the indoor turf field.
Those with nursing, EMS and pharmacy training prepared and administered the vaccinations and monitored people for immediate reactions.
The handling and preparations of the vaccine vials, produced by pharmaceutical company Pfizer, added an extra challenge for organizers.
“The vaccine is shipped from the federal government to the State of Nebraska,” said Jenny Tilleman, a doctor of pharmacy and associate professor in the School of Pharmacy. “The State of Nebraska then allocates vaccines to each county.”
The vaccines are stored in freezers at minus 80 degrees Celsius, she said, until they are moved to a clinic. The frozen vials are then kept cold in a box with dry ice before they’re moved to a cooler to thaw.
“The vaccine is very temperature sensitive, so we need to monitor the temperature minimally every hour and when the vaccine is placed in the cooler,” Tilleman said.
Once at room temperature, a saline diluent is added to the concentrated vaccine.
“Once the vaccine is diluted, we draw out the doses,” Tilleman said.
Between five and seven doses can be drawn from the vials, said Shawna Sunagawa, a fourth year Creighton pharmacy student.
On Saturday morning, Sunagawa was drawing the 0.3 milliliter doses from the vials.
“I had a free Saturday and thought this would be a great way to give back to the community,” she said.
Pharmacy students take a 20-hour class for vaccine certification ahead of their volunteer work, said Tilleman, the instructor for that course.
Once a person received a vaccine, they were directed to sit in the socially distanced waiting area for 15 to 30 minutes to be monitored for negative side effects.
Some possible negative reactions include lightheadedness, dizziness, itchy throat, hives and other side effects. Manz said early Saturday that there had been only one person at an earlier county clinic to experience side effects.
There was emergency equipment, CPR trained faculty and a privacy tent on site for immediate reactions.
The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses, 21 days apart, according to Sharrar. Manz said the clinic scheduled appointments for 1,383 second doses.
According to Nebraska Medicine’s vaccine reference guide, the Pfizer vaccine cannot be refrozen after thawing.
“Anything warmed up will be used today,” Tilleman said on Saturday morning.
The county provides a list of people to call if there are extra doses that need to be used.
The morning’s snow kept some volunteers and patients away, but there were still a total of 1,429 doses of the Pfizer vaccine given on Saturday, Manz said.
“The biggest challenge has been ensuring we have enough supply for the demand,” she said. “Second, setting this up in a way that is both efficient and friendly.”
Manz said the student volunteers help build a welcoming environment with a “positive attitude, eagerness and heart for service.”