Collaboration Provides COVID-19 Vaccine for Students

April 30, 2021

From the earliest days of the COVID-19 global pandemic, interdepartmental collaboration across St. John’s University has been the guiding principle and driving force in efforts to protect the broader St. John’s family as the University maintains health and well-being as the foremost priority. That shared spirit and willingness to act collectively to keep each other safe and healthy is overwhelmingly evident as students and employees avail themselves of the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Campus Vaccination Working Group, comprised of Maria M. Mantione ’96P, ’98Pharm.D., Director of the Doctor of Pharmacy program and Clinical Professor of Community Pharmacy Practice; William M. Maidhof ’99P, ’03Pharm.D., Associate Professor/Industry Professional, Department of Clinical Health Professions, John M. Conry, ’96P, ’98Pharm.D., Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice and the Chairperson of the Department of Clinical Health Professions in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (CPHS); Kathryn T. Hutchinson, Ph.D., Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs; and Luis G. Manzo, Ph.D., Executive Director of Wellness and Assessment, spearheaded the on-campus vaccination effort.

"We are proud of our students and their commitment to taking care of themselves and each other throughout this past year by adhering to public health guidelines and now taking the next step by getting vaccinated. I am really looking forward to having more in-person activities across campus, and by being vaccinated as a community, we are one step closer to making this a reality," beamed Dr. Hutchinson as students navigated the check-in, the dosage site, and the recovery area in a temporary clinic that is up and running in Taffner Field House on the Queens, NY, campus.

In late December 2020, St. John’s received confirmation that it was designated a vaccination site, but it was not until late April that dosages of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were made available to the University for distribution. It was Dr. Maidhof who retrieved them from the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center of New York in Manhattan. He was also responsible for filling out the requisite paperwork for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “My job here is to make sure the storage of the vaccine is appropriate, that our freezers and refrigerators are operating properly, and that all of our paperwork with the state and the city is in order.”

After receiving a shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from the New York State Department of Health, multiple departments across the University are actively working to distribute the vaccine to students and employees, and have now expanded the immunization service to include family members of employees.

Student pharmacist Lisa Capriola welcomed the chance to administer the vaccine to fellow students on campus after administering thousands of doses at long-term care facilities throughout the local area. “I think it is wonderful that St. John’s is doing this. We have tons of space and so many students who are willing to help out. It’s very smart, especially since the age restrictions have been lifted.”

“Our faculty and students have been volunteering their time testing and vaccinating for the last year,” said Russell J. DiGate, Ph.D., Dean, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

“Anyone in our College who is capable of administering the vaccine is doing so. I am delighted that the faculty and students have been so forthcoming with their time. They’re doing it because they are health-care providers, and this is what they do.”

Sophomore and Business major Juan Andre Garay, a native of Mexico, was grateful to receive his first vaccine dose at St. John’s. “In Mexico, the vaccination effort is going very slowly. My grandmother just received her first dose, and my parents haven’t received theirs. When I told my parents about this opportunity, they told me to do it. I’m so grateful to St. John’s for their efforts.”

Experiential learning, long a hallmark of a St. John’s education, was top of mind even during the COVID-19 pandemic when teaching and learning took on new and innovative formats. Dr. Conry and his colleagues spent the last year developing the COVID Health Resource Outreach Service Program (also known as the CROSS COVID Initiative), a plan for clinical faculty members and student pharmacists to vaccinate St. John’s students as soon as the University received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The plan is a collaborative effort between the College’s Urban Institute and the Division of Student Affairs.

“Our clinical faculty are spread across sites throughout New York City and Long Island, but we wanted to do something on campus as well,” he said. “We thought that as soon as testing became available, and eventually vaccinations, we could become heavily involved.”

Dr. Mantione echoed those sentiments and remarked on how quickly they were able to mobilize this effort. “We had been doing all of the back-end planning for months, so when we got the word, we were ready to go,” she stressed, adding that all vaccinations and postvaccine screening were being handled by CPHS faculty and student pharmacists.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to give back to the University in this way,” she noted. “It’s also somewhat historic. They’re going through their last year of pharmacy school in the middle of a pandemic. The vaccine is our way out of this. The opportunity to not only be involved in the vaccination process and get everybody healthy and protected is gratifying, and to do it at St. John’s is amazing.”