Student Pharmacist Vaccinates During the Pandemic to Protect Community

Student pharmacist Victoria Fusco dons gloves before vaccinating a community member during a pop-up vaccine clinic in the gym at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

Student pharmacist Victoria Fusco dons gloves before vaccinating a community member during a pop-up vaccine clinic in the gym at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

While studying at Notre Dame of Maryland University School of Pharmacy, Victoria Fusco had an opportunity that few student pharmacists before her ever had. She became a vaccinator during a global pandemic, and it was with COVID-19 vaccine that she honed her skills as an immunizer. Now, after having earned her PharmD degree, Dr. Fusco reflects on the pressing need to help protect her community from the virus that has swept the globe.

Fusco joined forces with her classmates and School of Pharmacy faculty to immunize students, faculty, and area residents against COVID-19. They coordinated and carried out pop-up vaccine clinics in the university’s gymnasium, where she administered 40 to 50 vaccines per day.

Whereas administering vaccines and providing patient care were new skills to Fusco as a student pharmacist, COVID-19 vaccine was new to everyone. She had to be prepared to address any questions and concerns that patients brought to her and provide the assurance they needed to go through with the vaccination.

“It was really rewarding to be able to talk people through it and ease their anxiety so they could have a bit of hope in the pandemic,” said Dr. Fusco, who is now a pharmacy resident at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Fusco recalls her first pregnant patient. Seven months into her pregnancy, the patient presented to get the vaccine as soon as she was eligible and before a substantial amount of data were available on pregnancy and COVID-19 vaccines.

“I can’t imagine how scary it must be to bring your first child into the world in the state it’s in right now,” Dr. Fusco said. “It meant a lot to me to be able to help her do what was best to protect herself and her baby.”

In accord with FDA authorization and CDC guidance, Dr. Fusco has also vaccinated patients across the spectrum of ages and medical conditions during the pandemic.

“An elderly couple came in together to get the vaccine, and they were in tears with happiness that they would get to see their family again soon,” Dr. Fusco said. “They had been very isolated and lonely, and it had taken a toll on their mental health.”

Over the course of the vaccine rollout, as Dr. Fusco encountered people with fears and reservations about rolling up their sleeves, she has learned on the job that the best approach is simply to listen. That’s what she believes people want most, she says—to be heard.

“People just need a chance to express their concerns and to have someone listen to them,” she said.

Dr. Fusco lets patients lead the discussion and listens to their questions, concerns, or misapprehensions. Before offering any information, she asks, “Would you mind if I shared this information with you?”

It’s important, she says, not only to make sure no one feels coerced to get the vaccine, but also to make sure they don’t feel forced to sit through a speech about evidence, side effects, and outcomes.

Practice Pearl

Listen to patients’ concerns and allow them the time they need to decide to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Additionally, Dr. Fusco has found that people who aren’t eager to get the vaccine are often persuaded by hearing providers’ personal experiences. She has helped alleviate prospective patients’ concerns by sharing with them exactly what she and her family members experienced in the first 24 hours after each dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

For the most part, “People who are more hesitant just want to get the vaccine on their terms when they feel ready,” says Dr. Fusco.

—Sonya Collins
January 2022

Resources to Answer Common Questions and Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence can be found at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.