Pharmacy students lend a steady hand to help with COVID-19 vaccine rollout


Fourth-year pharmacy student Mina Nagib vaccinates a patient with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. “It is very meaningful to me to conclude my pharmacy education in this way,” he says. (Photo: Supplied)

On the first day COVID-19 vaccines were given at the southeast Edmonton pharmacy where Mina Nagib works, the atmosphere was electric. 

“People came dressed up to get their vaccine, wearing suits or traditional dress,” he said. “It was a celebrated event—a major milestone for the patients and for the pharmacists.” 

The student in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is one of 130 fourth-years who are doing their final work placements before graduation. Nagib counts himself lucky to be one of the dozen or so who are helping to administer COVID-19 vaccines. 

“When I found out I would be one of the first students in Canada to administer COVID vaccines, I was ecstatic,” he said. “It’s a chance to shape what our future will look like.”

“Hopefully we can soon return to things that we previously took for granted, like attending an in-person social event, or going into a classroom with 300 participants, or being able to see people’s facial features without a mask on.”

Injecting hope

While public health measures will stay in place until more people are vaccinated, student Safeer Chatoor said he knows the expanding vaccination program brings people hope, especially for seniors. 

Fourth-year pharmacy student Safeer Chatoor, who is helping vaccinate seniors at a Londonderry Mall pharmacy, says he sees how the program is bringing people hope: “It’s an indescribable feeling when you look into their faces and see the joy.” (Photo: Supplied)

“It’s an indescribable feeling when you look into their faces and see the joy,” said Chatoor, who is doing his practicum at a large pharmacy in Londonderry Mall. “You can just see the relief on their faces as they get vaccinated.” 

“They’re so excited to get back to their normal lives because they’ve been cooped up in their places of residence for so long,” Chatoor said.

Pharmacy students are trained to administer intramuscular and subcutaneous shots in the third year of their studies, and then spend up to 32 weeks in their fourth year at on-the-job placements with pharmacist preceptors who supervise every injection. 

“This represents an opportunity for our students to participate in a much-needed public health activity that will save lives,” said Ann Thompson, assistant dean of Experiential Education for pharmacy students. “They get authentic, real-world experience to prepare them for the practice environment they are about to enter.”

The students will graduate in June and, after writing licence exams, most will soon enter the pharmacy profession.

Focus on safety

As Alberta begins Phase 2A of its vaccination plan on March 15, offering shots to people aged 65 to 74, more than 300,000 people in long-term care and health care have already received their immunizations.

“I encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as they can, because it’s a proven way to prevent infection,” said Nagib, who is ready to answer patient questions about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. 

Before getting their shot, each patient is asked a series of screening questions about whether they have other medical conditions or any active signs and symptoms of COVID-19. All surfaces are sanitized between each patient, and the staff wear gloves, face shields and masks. 

“I feel safe because we are following all the public health recommendations and cleaning protocols,” Nagib said.

For now, the Pfizer vaccine is available at more than 100 pharmacies across the province, but Chatoor noted the province is updating the rollout plan almost daily. 

“Many patients prefer to come to their pharmacy for vaccinations because they are comfortable with the pharmacists who manage their medications on a regular basis,” he said.

Most people in Alberta choose to get their influenza vaccine at a community pharmacy because of the convenience, Thompson said, and pharmacies are positioned to be just as crucial in delivering the COVID-19 vaccine. She expects the list of pharmacies offering vaccines to grow, meaning more students will have a chance to help.

“Pharmacies really serve a public health need by giving the right service, at the right place, at the right time,” Thompson said.

“We have the training, skills and infrastructure to administer the vaccine and make sure all Albertans are covered and protected,” Nagib said.

“It is very meaningful to me to conclude my pharmacy education in this way.”