When Stephanie D’Elia learned that the pharmacy where she works planned to open a COVID-19 vaccination clinic—at a time before the vaccine was widely available—the St. John’s University student enthusiastically jumped on board the project.
“I felt very passionate about this initiative because I worked throughout the pandemic and saw how much devastation resulted from the virus. I wanted to help in any way I could,” said Stephanie, a sixth-year Pharm.D. candidate who expects to graduate in May from the University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (CPHS).
“The COVID-19 vaccine was the much-needed light for so many in such a dark time.”
The owners of Carman Drugs in Westbury, NY, took Stephanie up on her offer. “But little did I know how much work was required to set up an efficient clinic,” said the Plainview, NY, resident. Still, she persistently applied the clinical and critical thinking skills she is refining in the University’s Pharmacy program to get the clinic established at the pharmacy.
She exhaustively researched the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and created information sheets for the pharmacy immunizers about the vaccines’ various efficacies, storage requirements, and most common side effects. “As more information became available about vaccine storage and expiration dates, I was in charge of keeping everyone informed and updated on any changes,” Stephanie said.
She set up the refrigeration units where the vaccines would be stored, ordered the proper thermostat, and created logs for recording the daily refrigeration temperature. Stephanie assumed responsibility for a host of other preparations for the clinic, including working with her supervisors to determine how it would operate.
“We had to figure out how to accommodate 250 appointments per day while maintaining socially distanced seating and deciding how much staff was needed to work in the facility,” she recalled.
“I had to calculate how many vaccines should be drawn up prior to starting the clinic to cover the first few hours. Precision is important to allow for a continuous flow of vaccinations without wasting any vaccines due to their limited shelf life,” explained Stephanie.
Finally, armed with a requested allotment of 1,000 vaccines, the community pharmacy’s clinic, one of the first on Long Island to receive COVID-19 vaccines, was launched in January, opening its doors to a lengthy line of people eager to receive their first dose.
“It was showtime!” Stephanie said. “The demand was at its peak when we first started because none of the chain pharmacies had received vaccines yet. People from all over New York drove for hours to Carman Drugs to get this vaccine.”
The staff expected the first day to be chaotic, according to the pharmacy student. “Although we laid out exactly how the day would run and set up appointments based on how many people we could accommodate in the store at one time, we knew it most likely wouldn’t go as planned.”
Stephanie added, “However, we were floored by how smooth the clinic ran that first day. Everyone who walked through the door was so patient. Although we couldn’t see the smile on their faces beneath the masks, we could see the joy in their eyes.”
For the next six months, Stephanie would help administer more than 3,000 vaccines. “People were from all walks of life, but they all had the same desire to work together to overcome the virus,” she said. “It was an experience I will never forget, and I will be forever grateful to have been a pharmacy intern during such a trying time. I was given an opportunity to live out my calling and take care of my community when it needed me the most.”
Stephanie, who continues to dispense the vaccines at Carman Drugs, wants to expand the role of pharmacists in communities. “I was initially drawn to the field of pharmacy,” she said, “because pharmacists are the most accessible health-care professionals in the community, and I’ve always been committed to community outreach.”
Stephanie consistently worked 13-hour days with the pharmacy staff to ensure every step of the vaccination process was done safely and efficiently, according to Carmela Avena-Woods, Pharm.D., Associate Professor and Associate Clinical Professor, CPHS.
“Stephanie is a true St. John’s success story,” Dr. Avena-Woods said. “It is clear that she will continue to apply her knowledge and skills in providing top quality patient care.”