Trillium Health Partners links with Sheridan Pharm Tech students for Moderna, Pfizer vaccine prep
At the beginning of March 2021, when most Sheridan students enjoyed a brief reprieve from classes as part of Reading Week, 19 Pharmacy Technician students were in a boot camp.
The group was finessing their reconstitution skills, practicing repeatedly how to prepare concentrated vials and accurately draw protective doses of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to be administered into the arms of patients.
Fast forward one week, and as part of their placement, these graduating students would find themselves at the Trillium Health Partners (THP) University of Toronto Mississauga clinic, working exclusively to reconstitute between 2,000 to 2,700 COVID-19 vaccines a day.
Reconstitution wasn’t a new concept for the students. In fact, it’s a practice they'd already spent 84 hours learning earlier in the program. Many drugs, such as antibiotics, or those required for chemotherapy, need to be diluted before they’re safe for injection. Using aseptic technique, pharmacy technicians pierce the rubber stopper of the vial, inject diluent, invert (mix) the vial, and then draw out exact doses of the medication into a syringe for patient administration. It’s a process that requires extreme precision, with no room for error.
But when THP approached Carol Borscevski, Program Coordinator with Sheridan’s Pharmacy Technician Program, asking if her students could help support the hospital’s vaccine distribution efforts, she knew they would be up for the challenge.
The process began in late February, when THP was tasked by the Ministry of Health to vaccinate more than 2,000 people per day at its clinic.
“They reached out to us to see if students could help support this process,” says Borscevski. “Of course, we jumped on board right away.” THP has a long-standing partnership with Sheridan, regularly hosting students for placement at its Mississauga and Credit Valley sites. Over the past year, Sheridan has supported THP through the donation of masks, gowns, face shields, safety glasses, sanitizers and particulate respirators.
“We thought it would be an excellent opportunity for our students to be able to use their skills in a meaningful way, while being able to serve our community and the residents of Peel,” says Dr. Maryam Niapour, Associate Dean, Faculty of Applied Health and Community Studies. “Trillium has been so good to us over the years, and this was one way that we could help support them during this time.”
"It was an amazing opportunity to have as a student, because you really felt like you were making a difference. You look outside and see the queues of people coming (into the clinic), and you’re so thankful to be helping. It’s humbling.” - Hamad Kakazai, Pharmacy Technician student
Trillium had very specific standards for reconstitution, and there was an expectation that when the students arrived at the vaccination site, they would be able to pass a certification test to begin reconstituting the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for distribution immediately.
With the support of Dr. Michael O’Leary, Dean, Faculty of Applied Health and Community Studies and Dr. Lindsey Anderson, Director of Clinical and Experiential Learning, within two weeks, Borscevski and Narinder Bining – a part-time Pharmacy Technician Professor, who also works full-time at THP as a Pharmacy Services Team Leader –had set up training during March Reading Week to help the students prepare.
Placebo Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were flown in from Alberta so students could train with solutions that were similar in size and volume. “We wanted to make sure the students were familiar with the exact formulations needed for the vaccine,” explains Niapour. “We wanted to make sure they were proficient in their skills, and because of our boot camp, there were no issues passing the certification test when they arrived at THP, and they were able to hit the ground running.”
As part of the practicum, Sheridan students staffed the clinic 12 hour a day, seven days a week. Ten reconstitution stations were set up, which at any given time were filled by Sheridan students during the clinic’s open hours. “It was challenging to come up with a schedule to support the clinic in the capacity they needed,” says Borscevski, adding that the students would alternate between four and eight-hour shifts.
Hamad Kakazai and Uparaam Gandhi – two of the participating students – admitted the experience was a bit intimidating at first. But thanks to the thorough workshop and training established by Borscevski and Bining, students were familiar with everything about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, including vaccine storage, handling, preparation, labeling, and required documentation They felt instantly comfortable at THP.
“Once everyone’s at their station, and all the work has been divided, the process is much easier because everyone is working as a team,” explains Kakazai. “One group might be drawing the sodium chloride solution, while the next group is reconstituting. And everything is checked before it goes out.”
Borscevski and Niapour says they received amazing feedback from THP about the students who participated in the March program. After the first placement wrapped on March 28, several students – including Gandhi – were offered paid positions at the clinic. And as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues to gain steam, Sheridan has sent additional students to support the clinic throughout April, with more to come in May.
“It was an amazing opportunity to have as a student, because you really felt like you were making a difference,” says Kakazai. “You look outside and see the queues of people coming (into the clinic), and you’re so thankful to be helping. It’s humbling.”
“It’s a challenging time to be a healthcare provider, and everyone is working so hard,” added Bining. “I’ve been part of the Sheridan community for years, and it really feels like home. I want our students to be successful, so it’s wonderful to hear they are doing so well.”
Pictured top of page: Sheridan students at the Trillium Health Partners University of Toronto Mississauga clinic. Pictured above left: Pharmacy Technician student Hamad Kakazai reconstituting a COVID-19 vaccine. Photos provided by Carol Borscevski, Program Coordinator with Sheridan’s Pharmacy Technician Program.