UAMS Students Aid Efforts to Offer Covid-19 Vaccines to Emergency Department Patients

By Linda Satter

It all started with Travis Eastin, M.D., and wife Carly Eastin, M.D., both associate professors in the College of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine, who saw an opportunity to enlist students to help educate unvaccinated patients about COVID-19 vaccines.

The timing couldn’t have been better. A year and a half into the pandemic, Arkansas is making national headlines over its simultaneous surge in new COVID-19 cases while an estimated two-thirds of residents remain unvaccinated. The Eastins knew that every effort to increase vaccinations was needed.

“We started by doing a needs assessment using Emergency Medicine Interest Group students just asking patients if they’d like to be vaccinated during their Emergency Department (ED) visit if it was available, and enough said yes that we just moved to actually administering the shots,” Carly Eastin said. “We are trying to get as many students mobilized to assist with approaching patients, educating them, offering the vaccine and then ordering it and facilitating giving it for those who accept.”

Emergency medicine residents Brendan Moore, M.D., and Aaron Moulton, M.D., and fourth-year medical student Morgan Sweere Treece, helped the Eastins put out the call for volunteers among students in the emergency medicine group. Later they expanded the request for volunteers to pharmacy students and then all medical students.

“The primary goal is to increase the number of vaccinated Arkansans, and while there is a survey and we are tracking data, the main objective is vaccination,” said Travis Eastin, shortly after the request for volunteers was posted on student listservs.

Less than two weeks later, Carly Eastin reported, “We feel that so far this has been a huge success! We have had volunteer medical students for mostly four hours – sometimes eight hours a day – each weekday since the end of June.”

She said students approach patients whose charts indicate they aren’t vaccinated, offer information about vaccine safety and efficacy, and answer questions the patients may have. The medical students then offer the vaccine. If the patient accepts, the student alerts the patient’s bedside nurse.

She later reported, “In about three weeks, we have offered the vaccine to 152 patients. Of those, the students have assisted in administering 38 vaccines in the ED and have helped schedule 15 others to receive their vaccines in a vaccine clinic.”

The response to the students’ efforts prompted ED providers to offer the vaccines during all shifts, including nights and weekends. By July 21, 61 COVID vaccines had been administered, and another 15 patients had made appointments to get them later.

Travis Eastin, M.D.

Travis Eastin, M.D.

“There is certainly a mix of reactions, in my experience,” said Fuad “Kikko” Haydar, MBA, who is working toward obtaining a medical degree in 2024 and who has been one of the most active volunteers.

“Some people are very happy to be able to conveniently get vaccinated in the ED,” he said. “Some don’t even want to discuss it. Some have asked questions about safety and side effects, and we were able to give them enough information to alleviate their worry. And then there are some who are upset when we bring up the vaccine entirely.”

The ED patients are being offered the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is now being stocked in the Emergency Department and is available around the clock.

 “I would like to give a shout-out to Pharmacy Specialist Gavin Jones, Pharmacy Director Sherry Myatt and Melissa Jo Easdon, nursing director in the Emergency Department, for helping make this a success,” Carly Eastin said.

 Recent statistics show that 60% of Arkansans who are 12 and older aren’t fully vaccinated, yet people are increasingly going out in public and attending large events without masks and without practicing social distancing.

“The best solution is rapid, immediate vaccination of every eligible Arkansans,” UAMS Chancellor Cam Petterson, M.D., MBA, said July 14.

While UAMS is seeing a new influx of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, Patterson has emphasized that vaccines do work, noting that none of the vaccinated patients at the hospital have died.