When the first effective Covid-19 vaccine was introduced last November—a monumental feat in such a short timeframe—the challenge began of implementing a nationwide mass-vaccination effort.
Nearly three months in, the effort has so far been beset by logistical delays, supply shortages, and a lack of clarity around eligibility, among other issues.
With herd immunity dependent on vaccinating a large majority of the population (80 to 90 percent, by some estimates), supply and distribution will clearly need to accelerate, but so, too, will the number of vaccine sites and volunteers trained to deliver those vaccines.
The students of area health professional schools can and should, under direct medical supervision, play a critical role in scaling up our inoculation efforts to provide a vaccine to all who want one.
Students from health professional schools in the Philadelphia region, across disciplines—medical, nursing, physician assistant, pharmacy, podiatry and dental—will be critical to this effort and have a unique opportunity to be leaders in this historic mobilization.
Since the early days of the pandemic, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) students from all three of our campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) have been volunteering in various capacities to support their respective communities.
From collecting and distributing PPE to staffing and volunteering at local testing sites, students have gained valuable experience working alongside the medical professionals they will call their colleagues after graduation. These efforts have not been limited to just PCOM students; in fact, health profession students across the country have shown incredible poise and professionalism in assisting efforts to combat this virus.
As additional vaccines have been approved, national efforts to assist in the rollout, such as Students Assist America (SAA), organized by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, have positioned health profession students to be critical participants in a civilian mobilization effort not seen in generations.
We are at a crucial moment in this crisis where nothing is more important than getting as many people vaccinated as possible. The students of PCOM and other area health professional schools can and should, under direct medical supervision, play a critical role in scaling up our inoculation efforts to provide a vaccine to all who want one.
It is incumbent upon us as medical professionals to utilize the skills and training we have developed to help push us through this challenging period in our history.
To be sure, the Covid-19 vaccine provides a renewed sense of hope that this crisis will soon be behind us, but now is the time to prepare for the road ahead. Health profession students are uniquely positioned in this moment to contribute to the nationwide vaccination effort while simultaneously gaining the hands-on experience they will bring as medical providers in their communities.
As a physician, I am incredibly proud of the progress my colleagues on the frontlines have made and continue to make. As a person, I am humbled by the humanity and grace they have shown under the strain of this tremendous pressure. With the support of the budding medical professionals trained at PCOM and other area health professional schools, I am confident that, together, we will see our way through this.
Jay S. Feldstein, DO, is president and CEO of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, overseeing business and affairs of the college and its three locations.