Office of the President

February 17, 2021

Getting vaccinated by your pharmacist? Thank the UW Schools of Pharmacy and Public Health

Ana Mari Cauce

In the face of the devastating pandemic that has killed almost half a million people in the United States alone, we have also witnessed extraordinary achievements and heroism in the fight to control COVID-19 and let us lift the restrictions that have made the last year so costly and painful.

The rapid development of effective vaccines has been a triumph of science and a testament to the work of generations of researchers and clinicians that enabled such swift advances in a desperate hour. The scale and speed of this undertaking is unlike anything we’ve experienced, with multiple effective vaccines in production and more on the way. But as we learned from our vaccine symposium co-hosted with Johns Hopkins University, the development of working vaccines is only as effective as their distribution. As the saying goes, “Vaccines don’t save lives, vaccinations do.”

Right now, we face the massive public health challenge of vaccinating hundreds of millions of people in an effort to achieve herd immunity. Our ability to meet that challenge owes a great deal to the work, both past and present, of the UW School of Pharmacy.

For much of my life, the only way to get a vaccination was at a doctor’s office or a hospital. In the 1980s and 90s, UW faculty members in the School of Pharmacy and the School of Public Health advanced the innovative notion of making vaccinations available in pharmacies in order to greatly expand capacity. Working with colleagues across disciplines and sectors, the idea took off nationwide, the reason, in no small part, that today you can get your flu shot at any Bartell Drugs or Fred Meyer.

Now, our pharmacy and public health colleagues are tackling the problem of vaccinating for COVID-19. At present, the challenge is production and supply — we need more doses. But as supply ramps up, the issue will become the bottleneck of vaccine delivery. To inoculate hundreds of millions of people in just a few months, they note we must build on what we have done with flu vaccines: ensure supply in every independent and chain pharmacy as well as at healthcare providers and pop-up vaccination centers. Just last week, the federal government started shipping COVID-19 vaccines directly to pharmacies in order to expand access, especially in communities where a pharmacist is the closest — and sometimes only — healthcare provider.

As capacity increases, School of Pharmacy Dean Sean Sullivan expects vaccines will be available in local pharmacy chains like QFC or Bartell’s, and in Washington’s hundreds of independent pharmacies. Local, independent pharmacies will likely play an even more important role as people who are hesitant about getting vaccinated turn to their local pharmacist for trusted guidance.

Of course, we also need thousands of people trained to prepare and administer vaccines. One of the first things every UW pharmacy student learns is how to administer a vaccination. Between our pharmacy students and faculty, the UW is fielding a small army of people qualified to administer COVID vaccines across our region. Throughout our communities and across our state, UW pharmacists and students are volunteering their time and training to expand our state’s vaccination capacity. Similar efforts are underway in the School of Nursing and the School of Dentistry as students, faculty, staff and volunteers all contribute to this vital effort.

The road ahead is still long and uncertain. We must all do our part. Please get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible, and help friends and family to get vaccinated as soon they can. As you get your shot — quite possibly from someone with ties to the UW — consider the decades of work that have made this ambitious undertaking possible, and the work of our health sciences and medicine enterprise that exist to keep you healthy.