The Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) serves as one of six mega-sites that Gov. Phil Murphy announced earlier this year, following the request of New Jersey Department of Health.
Gloucester County runs the RCSJ mega-site. However, Rowan University has embraced another site to utilize its faculty and students to aid communities in New Jersey.
The Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) opened the Rowan Medicine COVID-19 Vaccination Center at their Stratford, New Jersey, campus on Dec. 24, 2020. Aided by volunteers, including RowanSOM medical students, this vaccination site offers the Moderna vaccine to promote herd immunity.
According to Thomas A. Cavalieri, the dean of RowanSOM and fellow of the American College of Physicians (ACP), hospitals typically administer vaccines in “closed pods,” which means they only vaccinate their own healthcare workers.
“We were able to respond to the needs of healthcare workers who couldn’t easily access [the vaccine] through hospitals,” Cavalieri said. “Immediately we started fulfilling a condition that wasn’t readily available to those in the community, like professionals in private practice, dentists, EMTs and others.”
According to the New Jersey Department of Health, those currently eligible for a vaccine in Phase 1A include any person who works in a health care setting who has the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials, law enforcement and fire personnel.
In addition to healthcare workers, the Rowan Medicine COVID-19 Vaccination Center also provided vaccinations to police officers and firefighters.
“We saw a sea of blue in Stratford with law enforcement agencies and police from all over, like Atlantic, Camden and Gloucester counties. We ended up providing a particular need for the community that wasn’t met by local hospitals,” Cavalieri said.
According to Cavalieri, RowanSOM has recently vaccinated about 7,000 people, making up about 2% of all COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey. Cavalieri also said that they currently vaccinate anywhere from 300 to 600 people a day.
On Jan. 13, Gov. Murphy expanded category 1A to include persons aged 18 to 64 years old who have chronic medical conditions that pose a high risk for severe COVID-19, and people 65 and older.
Anjani Patel is a third-year medical student at RowanSOM and the Student Council president. She also volunteers as the head lead in the Student COVID Task Force. According to her, the change in access to vaccinations emphasizes the need for medical student volunteers.
“I remember the day we moved into the new category and the line was around the corner; we had individuals waiting in line since 5 a.m.,” Patel said. “We had to stop the line around 9 a.m. or else we couldn’t get everyone vaccinated. That day we had the most we ever vaccinated, about 610 individuals. Ever since the guidelines have broadened, we switched to appointment only.”
The Rowan Medicine COVID-19 Vaccination Center has about 450 volunteer medical students and typically has around 40 to 50 students on-site on any given day.
“We never expected to be in a pandemic during medical school. This process has been very humbling in seeing what healthcare workers have been through in the pandemic,” Patel said. “This is another way for us to give back to our community. We may not be in the hospitals or ICUs, but at least with every shot we provide, we can save lives because of herd immunity.”
According to Patel, RowanSOM is the only medical school in New Jersey with a capable vaccination clinic. She believes that it’s a unique opportunity to help and learn from the largest medical emergency in recent history.
“In 20 to 30 years, when we are practicing physicians and looking back at med school, this clinic will be something we remember. Not every medical student will be able to say their school held a vaccine clinic during [COVID-19],” she said.
While Patel is involved with on-site duties like facilitating patients’ inoculation, students also provide another integral role in the entire vaccination process.
Nida Ansari is a third-year medical student at RowanSOM, a public relations representative in student government, and also volunteers as the co-chair of the Student COVID Task Force. Volunteers like Ansari handle the off-site needs of the vaccination center.
These responsibilities include scheduling appointments and ensuring patient data is accurately recorded.
“For off-site volunteers, we have about 50 to 60 students who are regularly involved with the process. It’s a huge responsibility to make sure the off-site portion of the clinic is done properly,” Ansari said. “This can’t be done without some fantastic student leaders like my classmates Nardin Awad, Krima Patel and Brandon Goodwin, who stepped up and took on the bulk of that responsibility.”
The volunteer medical students are at different stages in their academic careers, such as younger students who have yet to enter their education’s clinical stage. Together, they willingly take on this responsibility while balancing their school work.
“The way our students have risen to the occasion is just a reflection of their commitment to being great physicians of the future,” Cavalieri said. “When I see them, I know that the future of healthcare is in good hands.”
Cavalieri emphasized just how much support Operation Saving Lives has received throughout the broader Rowan community.
“The success of what we are doing in Stratford is because it’s been embraced by Rowan University at large,” he said.
Cavalieri cited many Rowan University branches with unique roles in the vaccination process like public safety, the IRT department, the marketing department and human resources.
The Rowan Medicine COVID-19 Vaccination Center is located on the campus of Rowan’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford. Vaccinations are available Monday through Friday by appointment. Additional information can be found at www.rowanmedicine.com/vaccine.
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