It became known as the happiest place on Earth.
The Health Sciences Campus COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic was a place of connection – an exciting step toward ending the pandemic.
Led by the Centre for Family Medicine Family Health Team, it was housed in the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy in downtown Kitchener between March and August 2021. It became a beacon of hope and an opportunity for dozens of Waterloo alumni to find purpose in some of the most difficult days of the pandemic’s third wave.
“Partnering to support the clinic was essential for us,” says Andrea Edington, Hallman director of the School of Pharmacy. “Our community has been nothing but welcoming since our School opened in 2009. We were thrilled to give back by lending our space and expertise to this important cause.”
The clinic saw tears of joy from people who had been separated from loved ones and smiles behind the masks of alumni who felt connected to the global effort to save lives.
Smiles and selfies
When Ai-Leng Foong-Reichert (PharmD ’18, PhD in progress) oversaw vaccine preparation at the clinic, not a day went by without people expressing gratitude.
Foong-Reichert found renewed strength from being back in the School of Pharmacy at a time when completing her degree remotely was wearing on her.
“I’d stop and think: ‘Here I am, carrying out this specific task, seeing people’s joy, and there are people just like me doing this same task in vaccine clinics all around the world.’ It was a humbling realization.”
Foong-Reichert was moved by the sight of an older man struggling to take a selfie after his vaccine. “I smiled because I knew he was sending it to his grandchildren. That sense of relief and excitement, getting back to some sort of normal – it’s what connected us all.”
Doing his part to end the pandemic
Joey Champigny (PharmD ’20) was one of many pharmacy alumni who worked at the Health Sciences Campus clinic. “I remember sitting in the lecture hall learning about infectious disease,” Champigny says. “I never thought that later I’d be sitting in that same seat, giving someone a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Champigny was an immunizer and trained local health-care provider on vaccine preparation. “I was completing a residency and working part-time, but I knew I had to support the clinic,” he says. “I didn’t want to look back and think I could’ve done more to end the pandemic.”
Contributing as a family
Ryan Tennant (BAS ’19, MASc ’21, PhD in progress) grew up in a family of extroverts, so when he heard the vaccine clinic was looking for volunteers, he wanted to get his whole family involved.
Along with his parents Dave (BES ’79) and Sherri and his sister Lia (BSc ’13, MSc ’16), Tennant guided people from the parking lot to check-in stations, answered questions and provided support to patients and staff.
“I met people I hadn’t seen in years: former teachers and school friends. My shifts were full of those ‘small world’ moments connecting with people,” Tennant says.
His volunteer experience also inspired Tennant’s PhD research. The engineering student, working with many collaborators, designed an app to improve workflow in the clinic and minimize wasted resources.
Tennant hopes the app can be used in clinics around the world: “It’s been invigorating to design a solution that’s so immediately useful.”
“What dad wanted for me”
Wajma Attayi (MPH ’13) had a long career supporting public health initiatives, but the vaccine clinic was unlike anything she’d seen before. “Public health regulations changed daily, and communication was of utmost importance,” she says. “Our team was incredible throughout ... From the moment I parked my car until I walked out at the end of long days, I always had a smile on my face.”
Shortly after the clinic opened, Attayi joined the Centre for Family Medicine as interim director of the family health team that led clinic operations. “My colleagues and our partners did a tremendous job setting up something so complicated and important in just two weeks,” Attayi says.
For Attayi, the project also gave her solace through the loss of her father who passed away in June 2021. “Dad, as an immigrant to Canada, was all about sacrifice, working hard, sharing your story and helping others,” she says. “He invested so much time and energy in me
as he never had the opportunity. When I think that I played just a small role in supporting such an important initiative in our community, I think, ‘This is what dad wanted for me.’ ”