Health solutions students gain real-world experience by supporting ASU COVID-19 vaccination distribution

When the call went out in late January for volunteers to help with Arizona State University's COVID-19 vaccination effort, students at the College of Health Solutions jumped at the chance, filling almost a fourth of the 480 available slots in less than 12 hours.

They joined a small army of ASU faculty, staff and students volunteering to help deliver thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 11,000 eligible ASU community members at the COVID-19 vaccination site in the Sun Devil Fitness Center at the ASU Tempe campus. 

These students are helping people navigate the multistep process of getting the vaccine. From greeting people at the door to confirming appointments and helping with paperwork, College of Health Solutions students are supporting the logistics of the vaccine delivery to ensure a smooth and efficient process.

Being part of this history-making, complex public health operation is exciting, said senior nutrition student Bethany Liedike.

“I volunteered for vaccination duty to be a part of something bigger than me,” she said. “I have had the luxury of staying safe at home for the majority of the pandemic, and I was excited to be able to lend a helping hand.”

For Alexandra Wood, an exercise and wellness major, seeing so many people glad to get the vaccine is one of the best parts of the experience.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised that so many people have showed up," Wood said. "You hear about anti-vaxxers opposed to shots, but we’re seeing a lot of people, and they really appreciate the opportunity to get the vaccine so early.” 

Many getting the vaccine right now are in the age 65 and older group because they are among the first to be eligible according to federal guidelines. Senior health sciences student Maci Crookes said helping them complete the application process has given her a deeper understanding of the barriers to health care that she has studied in her classes.

“The easiest and most accessible way to get an appointment is to sign up through email. It has been a challenge for many elderly people to get access to the vaccine because some of the people who have come to be vaccinated do not even have email addresses,” Crookes said.

Alysa Bustamante, a student in the science of health care delivery master’s degree program, also drew a parallel between her coursework and her volunteer experience.

“In a lot of my classes we’re talking about how to optimize health care delivery by giving patients a quality experience," she said. "It’s been really great to see the front lines of the clinical side of health care since I’m studying it more from the administration side.”

Giving patients that quality experience is the mission of David Gillum and his staff. Gillum is ASU’s senior director of environmental health and safety and is charged with setting up the vaccine operation and making sure it runs smoothly.

“Everything looks effortless and works very well, but it’s incredibly complex with all the logistical details,” he said.

The team delivers 500 vaccinations to 500 patients’ arms each day. They have to do it within six hours of the vials being opened for use because the vaccine loses its effectiveness after that. Student volunteers are told they will receive the vaccine after working three shifts, but Gillum said that if any vaccine is left at the end of the day, it is administered to volunteers and walk-ins so that none of it goes to waste.

“One of our nurse practitioners figured out how to extract doses from the vials to make use of the entire amount leaving none leftover. Because of this, we’ve been able to get an extra dose from each vial so that even more can be vaccinated,” he said. 

Some of those eligible for vaccination are ASU faculty who are teaching students in person this semester. Tamiko Azuma, a College of Health Solutions assistant dean and associate professor who teaches in the college’s speech and hearing programs, received her vaccine at the ASU site and said it was an excellent experience.

“I was so impressed with how smoothly everything ran, from the initial intake to the end debriefing," Azuma said. "All of the volunteers were friendly and seemed excited about being a part of this important process. I knew that many of our (College of) Health Solutions students had signed up to be there, so I was feeling especially proud of the student volunteers.” 

Gillum said being around the student volunteers is truly energizing. “The students are amazing. They seem so happy, and I love seeing them here working as volunteers. When would they ever have this opportunity in a normal year?”