Reviewed by: Stephanie Morgan, PhD, RN, FNP-BC
Written by: Ashley Lawrence
The University of Texas at Austin’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts have expanded significantly since the first COVID-19 vaccine arrived at UT Health Austin in December 2020 and was administered to frontline healthcare personnel. In January 2021, the Texas Department of State Health Services designated UT Austin (which includes partners across UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School; the School of Nursing; the College of Pharmacy; the Steve Hicks School of Social Work; University Health Services; and the Office of Campus Safety) a COVID-19 vaccination site to help protect the health of the greater Austin community.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a lot of different projects over the years and every one of them has been exciting and thrilling in their own way,” says Stephanie Morgan, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, who is a professor of clinical nursing and serves as both the Director of Practice Innovation and the Director of Wellness for The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing and has been involved in UT Health Austin’s vaccination efforts since the beginning. “But this collaboration is just hands down one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. There has always been some crossover between these groups on campus, but the ways in which we’ve partnered, the things we’ve learned, the time we’ve spent together, and the relationships we’ve built is something that is going to be solidified forever based on this lifechanging work.”
As vaccine eligibility changed throughout the spring and into summer and vaccination appointments shifted from strictly scheduled appointments to also accepting walk-ins, it became increasingly difficult to pinpoint the exact number of vaccinations that would be administered each day. Despite precautions that were taken, such as ensuring vaccine remained at the appropriate temperature prior to use and all vaccine was prepared on-site, vaccine was inevitably left over at the end of each day.
“Our initial goal,” explains Dr. Morgan, “was to not waste any vaccine. We were mixing vaccine on-site and making sure we got the six out of six doses out of every vial. We tried to mix vaccine according to the number of people we knew we had scheduled that day, but there’s never a perfect balance. There would be people who didn’t show up for their appointment or we would have a person show up without an appointment and we didn’t want to have to turn them away.”
While part of the concern around vaccine waste was about administering a vaccine to someone in need, particularly when vaccine availability was limited, it was also about limited supplies. The amount of supplies the vaccination hub received corresponded to the amount of vaccine the hub had on hand. For every additional vial that was mixed, the hub was not only losing that vaccine, but also losing those syringes. As a result, the School of Nursing partnered with UT Health Austin to launch Vaccinate, No Waste (VaxNow), a program dedicated to administering leftover doses of vaccine.
“The School of Nursing has provided so many resources, which, combined with our tremendous volunteer support, has made this effort possible,” says Dr. Morgan. “We were able to provide additional qualified staff to administer vaccine and were even able to treat those volunteer hours as a clinical rotation for our students. Before VaxNow became a formal program, it really started with the dedication our team members had to the cause. After volunteering all day, members of our team would take it upon themselves to pack up coolers of vaccine and drive around to neighborhoods and grocery stores until 10 p.m. to administer that last dose to someone in need. I’ve had conversations with the Texas Department of State Health Services during which they’ve complimented us on our low wastage. This is all because of their efforts.”
The VaxNow program also involves the full registration process, which includes registering the patient’s information prior to receiving the vaccination, creating a vaccination card for the patient once they receive the vaccination, and scheduling the patient for the appropriate second-dose follow-up appointment. This initiative served as a catalyst for the Vaccine Administration Mobile Operations (VAMOS), an additional program launched by the School of Nursing in partnership with UT Health Austin that focuses on making vaccine accessible to vulnerable populations and those in underserved Austin communities.
“We had people calling into UT Health Austin’s call center or the UT Austin campus directly, saying they wanted a vaccine but couldn’t travel,” explains Dr. Morgan. “We started keeping track of those requests and that was when we really began to realize how great the need was. The great thing about our team of volunteers was that those team members were willing to travel to those individuals in need, which led to the creation of VAMOS. UT Health Austin serves as the home base for the infrastructure of VAMOS, providing vaccine, electronic medical recordkeeping, and other tools, and the School of Nursing has done the heavy lifting in terms of executing ground operations and ensuring not a single vaccination is wasted.”
Since launching VAMOS, a more formal intake process has been established in which someone, such as a homebound individual, can submit an email to VAMOS@utexas.edu to request a vaccination. This process helps the VAMOS team identify where some of those greater community needs are and determine whether to send a team or an individual out to host a mobile vaccination clinic in the area to accommodate that need.
“Our goal has really shifted now to reaching communities in low vaccinated areas,” says Dr Morgan. “We want to help educate people about the benefits of the vaccine, especially those who are still on the fence or may even not know that the vaccine is available to them. Through VAMOS, we’ve managed to set up mobile vaccination clinics in churches, parking lots, unhoused camps, and other various off-site locations. We’ve recently partnered with Austin Independent School District to set up mobile vaccination clinics in schools around the city. We revisit all of these sites a second time to ensure patients are able to receive their follow-up vaccination, and for some sites, we’ve been back three and four times now. The success of our vaccination operations is truly a testament to all of our volunteers who have dedicated countless hours to making sure the community has access to the care they need.”
In May 2021, UT Austin celebrated the administration of over 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines. To date, over 140,000 individuals have received a COVID-19 vaccination through UT Health Austin. If you are interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.