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Student pharmacists standing by across Idaho and Alaska to give COVID-19 vaccine

student pharmacists administer COVID immunizations at a community event

“There are no bad ideas” says Idaho Governor Brad Little in response to a question about the possibility of a drive-up COVID-19 vaccination site that could help fast track the delivery of the vaccine to residents. The governor spoke during a weekly phone call with AARP Idaho on January 5.

In the fall of 2020, Idaho State University student pharmacists and nurses delivered flu vaccinations to nearly 1000 people at two drive up clinics, one in Meridian on October 3 and one in Pocatello on November 21. With the support of the Idaho Immunization Coalition, Albertsons, St. Alphonsus and others, they’ve been preparing to help administer the COVID-19 vaccine since then.

Governor Little’s confidence in the ability and readiness of ISU students to mobilize and administer the vaccine in a large-scale drive-up manner comes from his own first-hand experience. He and the First Lady Teresa Soulen Little received their flu shots from ISU-Meridian third-year students Elise Capson and Dora Aguayo respectively, at the Meridian drive-up clinic in October.

“I participated, Teresa and I got our flu vaccine in the drive through facility at the ISU campus in Meridian and they did 650 that day and that was just doing it in one day of standing it up. If we get used to doing this and scaling it, that’s what we need to do. We are working with all vendors to make that work.”

Because their training for administering immunizations begins in their first week of pharmacy school, student pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help bring both Idaho and Alaska up from their current standing as states with some of the lowest numbers of residents vaccinated to date. Idaho currently sits at #40 for percentage of residents vaccinated and Alaska at #34, according to a Becker’s Hospital Review website that is updated daily.

Student pharmacists require no additional training to begin this important work. Across the state, there are about 40 student pharmacists already administering COVID-19 vaccines in hospitals and health clinics. Twenty are at St. Alphonsus Medical Centers across the Treasure Valley. Several more are working at Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene and Mountain View Hospital in Idaho Falls.

Soon, student pharmacists will also provide assistance to nurses and physicians at St. Luke’s hospitals and facilities in the Treasure Valley in giving the vaccine, along with locations in Pocatello. In the next few days, student pharmacists will help administer COVID-19 vaccine at Albertsons locations around Idaho as well.

Likewise, student pharmacists in Anchorage, AK, where ISU has had a pharmacy program in collaboration with University of Alaska Anchorage for five years, are also helping deliver the vaccine to residents. Over 700 there have been vaccinated by ISU student pharmacists to date.

“The only challenge we are facing now is the availability of vaccine,” says Dr. Kevin Cleveland, assistant dean and director of the Office of Experiential Education. “Our students are experienced. We’re ready to go out into community pharmacies or other locations and administer vaccines. That’s going to be where we can help the most, by having students available to give shots, when we have them.”

There are others in the ISU community helping in response to the pandemic. Dr. Brecon Powell, assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy is helping train pharmacy technicians and pharmacists needing a refresher course on the administration of vaccines all over SE Idaho.

Beginning this week, students, faculty and staff from all of ISU’s departments and programs are also helping conduct mandatory COVID-19 screening at all campus locations. Health officials for the University implemented the screening for the safety of all faculty, staff and students who have a presence on any of ISU’s campuses, including Anchorage, AK.