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Sac State prepares to answer COVID-19 vaccination call

With a COVID-19 vaccine approved and immunization for frontline workers across the nation under way this week, Sacramento State is preparing to protect students, faculty, and staff, and their families from the virus.

Sacramento County Public Health is considering the campus as one of several possible sites to host a Medical Point of Dispensing (MPOD) for the recently approved vaccine against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The amount of vaccine the county receives will determine the number of MPODs in the region, the Public Health immunization team says.

Flu shots have been delivered during the fall semester utilizing organization Sac State will employ if called upon to provide COVID-19 vaccinations. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Flu shots have been delivered during the fall semester utilizing organization Sac State will employ if called upon to provide COVID-19 vaccinations. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

The University has used the MPOD model three times during the Fall 2020 semester, dispensing flu vaccinations and using the experience to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

To help accommodate management of the COVID-19 vaccine, Sac State plans to use freezers in the Ernest E. Tschannen Science Complex that can keep the substance frozen at a required sub-zero temperature, before it is thawed for use.

Though initially geared to the campus population, Sac State will open its MPOD to the community at large, if called on by Sacramento County Public Health. That could happen when vaccine dosages are more widely available, said Brenda Bongiorno, of Sacramento County’s Public Information Office.

“The health and safety of the Hornet Family is an essential priority, and we will always protect the Hive,” said University President Robert S. Nelsen. “As an anchor university, Sacramento State is blessed to be an MPOD.

“We all need to come together and do what we can to keep our region safe. Together, we will endure, and we will come out stronger on the other side of this devastating pandemic.”

“The University is a perfect candidate for a closed point of dispensing lifesaving medications, because of the large number of students and employees.” 

Sac State’s drive-through MPOD will be in Parking Structure 3 (PS 3), which can accommodate six lanes of traffic for mass immunizations. Plans also call for the University Union and Science Complex to host walk-in clinics.

“We are prepared for when the vaccine becomes available, which could be several months from now,” said Joy Stewart-James, associate vice president for Student Health and Counseling Services. “The health center has been working with Sacramento County for a few years to develop the MPOD.”

Other campus partners involved in planning for the coronavirus vaccine MPOD include the Emergency Operations Center, University Transportation and Parking Services (UTAPS), the School of Nursing, and the Sacramento State Police Department.

The idea dates to the bioterrorism scare of the early 2000s. After several government officials received letters containing toxic anthrax, Sacramento County approached Sac State about potentially setting up an MPOD for the campus community.

“We would have been a site that could aid with distribution of medications if there were an attack locally. It was important to get out the antidote within 36 hours,” said Janet Dumonchelle, pharmacist-in-charge at the Student Health Services Pharmacy.

Because there was no threat to the campus, the bioterrorism MPOD was not launched.

However, in early March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, campus partners again considered the idea of an MPOD. Dumonchelle invited Dave Reddick, from the public health preparedness consulting company Bio-Defense Network, to speak with the campus partners.

“I talked them through the process and explained the value of doing it,” said Reddick, who is based in St. Louis and has served as a consultant for Sacramento County Public Health and other agencies throughout the country.

“The University is a perfect candidate for a closed point of dispensing lifesaving medications, because of the large number of students and employees.” 

Nursing students administered flu shots to more than 200 Hornets during the three previous parking structure MPODs and vaccinated hundreds more during walk-in flu clinics at the University Union and The WELL this fall.

The fourth drive-through flu-shot clinic and MPOD rehearsal in PS 3 is set for Tuesday, Jan. 12, in partnership with Sacramento County Public Health.

Experts say flu vaccines are especially important this year to help reduce chances of people contracting influenza and COVID-19 simultaneously, a possibility that potentially could lead to what has been called a “twin-demic.”

“The flu vaccine does protect people and communities from a preventable disease,” said Tanya K. Altmann, chair and professor in the School of Nursing.

“Doing your part to help reduce the spread and effect of the flu helps to conserve health care resources by reducing the overall burden of respiratory illnesses on the system. It’s your civic duty and the right thing to do.”

Additional MPOD rehearsals are possible as Sac State awaits its allotment of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“We continually improve Sac State’s COVID-19 immunization readiness,” said Tony Lucas, associate vice president for Business and Administrative Services. “We’ve learned how to scale up the number of people we can safely serve by adding additional vaccination stations in various configurations in Parking Structure 3.”

The capacity to store the vaccine safely represents a key University asset as an MPOD.

The seven freezers in the Science Complex ordinarily hold the faculty’s biological research projects at temperatures to minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Those freezers can accommodate thousands of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses, which must be kept at minus 94 degrees.

The Science Complex opened in September 2019. However, the biosafety hoods where faculty research samples are generated and freezer room where they are stored were delayed for several months.

That meant the seven big freezers were nearly empty when the campus transitioned to virtual operations March 17 because of the pandemic.

“If we hadn’t built that building, with a design that explicitly includes support for research, and if the pandemic hadn’t hit so soon after we moved in, this wouldn’t have been possible,” said Lisa Hammersley, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“I am so excited for our college to be able to support the University and the region in moving toward an end to this pandemic.”

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About Dixie Reid

Dixie Reid has been a writer for Sac State since 2012 after decades as a newspaper reporter. A Texas native with the accent to prove it, Dixie is crazy about “dear friends, big dogs, good books, great food, day trips, baking cookies, California sunshine (and fog), and kind people.”

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