On Jan. 19, the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy's Vote & Vax initiative was honored by the Maryland Partnership for Prevention with a 2011 Immunization Excellence Award for its efforts to provide seasonal flu vaccine to Prince George's County residents on Election Day 2010. The award recognized the initiative for vaccinating 153 individuals, 42 of whom were vaccinated against the seasonal flu for the first time.
"It's amazing and rewarding to witness how two students' idea turned into an innovative School-wide, student-led public health initiative," said Hoai An Truong, PharmD, MPH, assistant director of the School's Experiential Learning Program and an advisor for the project. "Student pharmacists Tina Dang and Janet Dudley served as chief organizers and collaborated with two student organizations and over two dozen students to develop and implement Vote & Vax in just under five months."
The local community outreach project was organized by the School's American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists and the Student Section of the Maryland Public Health Association. It was the only Vote & Vax initiative held in Maryland during the 2010 election season.
Vote & Vax was designed to help meet the needs of Prince George's County residents and demonstrated the changing role of pharmacists to be more focused on direct patient care through avenues such as the administration of life-saving vaccines. Prince George's County has been identified by state health officials as an area with typically low vaccination rates. Vaccines were offered in partnership with the Prince George's County Health Department at the Langley Park Community Center, which is adjacent to the Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School polling site.
"Our intent was to provide flu shots to a population with historically low vaccination rates while simultaneously demonstrating that pharmacists have expanding roles that include health promotion and disease prevention," said Dudley, a fourth-year student.
The free flu shots provided protection against the seasonal flu as well as the H1N1 flu virus and were provided by the Prince George's County Health Department.
"When I first read about Vote & Vax, I thought how beneficial an initiative like this could be in our community here in Maryland," said Tina Dang, a fourth-year student. "With such a large underserved population, it is common to hear people complain that they can't afford a flu shot, or don't have time to get one. Many did not know the risks they were exposing themselves and their loved ones to by not receiving flu shots. Fueled by the fact that pharmacists can give immunizations themselves, I realized that this is very much something within our realm as pharmacy students."
The Maryland Partnership for Prevention is the adult immunization coalition for Maryland and parent organization of the Maryland Childhood Immunization Partnership and regional immunization coalitions across the state. Its vision is "healthy people living in Maryland who are free from vaccine-preventable and other preventable diseases," and it exists "to improve the health status of high-risk populations through the promotion of culturally-competent, socially just, preventive health services; facilitation of access to such services; and provision of education and technical assistance to community partners in the delivery of high-quality public health care."
The Immunization Excellence Awards Luncheon celebrated all immunization providers and gave special recognition to individuals, teams, and organizations that made extraordinary contributions toward increasing immunization rates in Maryland.
"The Excellence Awards luncheon is one of our favorite events," said Tiffany Tate, MHS, executive director of the Maryland Partnership for Prevention. "Immunization providers work very hard to keep the public safe. If they are doing their job well, there is no illness. Because it is difficult to see the results of their tireless work, their efforts frequently go unrecognized. This luncheon gave us the opportunity to honor some of the unsung heroes of public health."