In line with the National Department of Health’s (NDoH) mandate to vaccinate as many eligible people as quickly as possible, the Rhodes University Faculty of Pharmacy has started vaccinating its qualifying students against COVID-19.
Pharmacy students register with the South African Pharmacy Council in their first year, which allows them to perform tasks under supervision. This categorises them as health care workers, which were among the first group to qualify for vaccines.
“Visiting and working in clinical spaces, such as hospitals and primary health care settings, is a vital component of the Bachelor of Pharmacy degree,” explained Rhodes University Pharmacy Lecturer Natalie Paterson. The degree requires students to perform a certain number of Work-Based Learning (WBL) hours and participate in clinically based practicals at hospitals and clinics, which could expose them to a higher risk of infection.
Last week, a total of 168 final-year Pharmacy students, academic Pharmacy interns and other eligible staff in the Faculty of Pharmacy received their first dose – right here on campus. Co-ordinated by Paterson, the vaccinations were administered by two registered nurses, Sr Emily Repinz from the Biopharmaceutics Research Institute (BRI) and Sr Lynnette Van Dyk, who is a staff member in the Faculty of Pharmacy. Both nurses completed the DoH COVID-19 Vaccinators Course and have been registered as COVID-19 vaccinators with the DoH.
“It is the intention of the Faculty of Pharmacy to ensure that all pharmacy students are vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible. Although Pharmacy students qualify to be vaccinated anywhere, the Faculty of Pharmacy believes it has a responsibility to reduce the burden on the already over-stretched health care system by offering our students vaccinations in-house,” said Paterson.
Final-year student vaccinations were prioritised, as they begin their Pharmacotherapy course soon, which involves exposure to multiple hospital pharmacy sites. “We intend to vaccinate our second- and third-year BPharm students at the Faculty this week,” Paterson stated.
According to Paterson, the process of vaccinating the Pharmacy students has been a relatively easy one. “I found that my experience as part of the team who set up vaccination sites for the Sisonke project around the Eastern Cape has been invaluable. It was helpful to have been through the process before and understand the DoH system and site criteria,” she explained. The Faculty also worked very closely with the DoH District Manager for Sarah Baartman District, Mr Muhammed Docrat, and the pharmacists at Settlers Hospital, many of which are alumni of Rhodes University.
The Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy, Dr Carmen Oltmann, said: “We are excited to be able to vaccinate our students in-house. It means we will be able to resume our programme in the clinical spaces as soon as possible, which is now perhaps more necessary than ever. We are proud that our staff and students can contribute so meaningfully to the fight against COVID-19.”
Paterson reminds us that vaccination is one of our best weapons in fighting this devastating virus. “Every person who is vaccinated helps break the chain of spread and gives us all a better chance – and this means we can hopefully all get back to the normal life we are craving,” she said. “The vaccines registered for use in this country have been proven to be safe and effective by the same system and same people who regulate all other medicines in the country. Please use reputable sources like the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) to look for answers to your questions – don’t allow yourself to fall prey to misinformation and conspiracy theories.”
“It is also possible that an individual may have contracted COVID-19 before being vaccinated or in the first few weeks after their first dose, which is why it is still necessary for all individuals to take all the usual precautions,” she added.
The pharmacy students are due for their second dose in August, and the Faculty intends to provide this second dose in-house again.
For more information about the findings of the Sisonke vaccination safety study, please see eNCA interview with study co-author and CEO of Right to Care, Dr Ian Sanne here: https://youtu.be/veHwAMEE1ho