Pharmacy alumni and students support COVID-19 vaccination pilot in downtown Toronto pharmacies

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Three pharmacists wearing masks and standing in the pharmacy

Tarun Fernandez (Rx2020), Elaine Tai (Rx2018), and Brittani Brown (Rx2022) supported the pilot sites

MEDS Pharmacy is a group of three pharmacies located in busy downtown Toronto neighborhoods like High Park and the Junction. They’re owned by Dan Yurchuk and employ many Waterloo alumni. One location is also managed by Dave Hughes, Rx2013 and instructor at Waterloo Pharmacy.

Downtown Toronto has been hard hit by COVID-19, and so when it came time to pilot COVID-19 vaccinations in pharmacies, several Toronto pharmacies participated. All three MEDS Pharmacies were part of the pilot.

“When we were asked to support the provincial pilot program, I knew we had to get all of our locations onboarded into the program as soon as possible,” says Yurchuk. “I felt that we needed to contribute our expertise and continue serving our communities – that’s what pharmacy is all about.  We immediately started reaching out for help and our Waterloo alumni pharmacy team stepped up in a remarkable way!”

Louis Wei preparing a COVID-19 vaccine

Louis Wei (Rx2019) drawing up a vaccine

Some staff at MEDS had experience supporting vaccinations.

“I’d already helped out in long-term care centers and vaccination clinics through the Scarborough Health Network,” says Louis Wei, Rx2019. “Pharmacists are always looking for opportunities to support our community, so when MEDS announced they were joining the pilot project, I wanted to get involved right away.”

He wasn’t the only one. Many Waterloo graduates joined in the pilot, supporting all parts of the vaccination process. A team of pharmacists, pharmacy interns and students drew up the doses, counselled on the vaccine and administered the shots. Answering questions about the vaccine was and continues to be a big part of their job; many patients have questions and simply want to know more before making a decision about getting vaccinated.

“It’s been immensely gratifying to contribute to the fight against this pandemic, one injection at a time,” says Injeong Yang, another Rx2019 who supported the pilots. “Patients at all three MEDS pharmacies have repeatedly shared their appreciation for our team.”

Injeong counselling a patient, both wearing PPE

Injeong Yang (Rx2019, right) discussing the COVID-19 vaccine with a patient

One of the MEDS sites, the Canadian Compounding Pharmacy, has employed Waterloo Pharmacy co-op students for many years. As a result, several current pharmacy students also supported the vaccine campaign through this location.

“This pharmacy is the reason we see so many alumni on the MEDS team,” says Wei. “Elaine Tai and I were previously co-op students and continued working here after graduating. It’s been so exciting to see so many Waterloo students and graduates become a part of the pilot.”

The following alumni and students have supported the vaccine clinics in the MEDS pilot:

  • Akriti Agrawal, Rx2018
  • Brittani Brown, Rx2022
  • Cassandra Na, Rx2019
  • David Hughes, Rx2013
  • Elaine Tai, Rx2018
  • Injeong Yang, Rx2019
  • Louis Wei, Rx2019
  • Nikta Tamashekan, Rx2019
  • Pari Shahrezaei, Rx2019
  • Sarah Fallis, Rx2023
  • Svetlana Litchmanova, Rx2021
  • Tarun Fernandez, Rx2020
  • Yue Gao, Rx2019

The pilots were a success since day one, with patients constantly expressing gratitude and commenting on how smooth and efficient the process has been.

“I’ve had a few patients shed tears of happiness and take videos or photos,” says Wei. “Everyone has played such an instrumental role in maintaining a safe and efficient vaccination clinic at all three sites.”

In particular, patients have shared how they appreciate the open, transparent communication from the MEDS staff.

“Keeping our patients informed in a timely manner has been crucial with information that is consistently evolving,” says Wei. “It’s truly been a positive experience for both the patients and healthcare providers involved.”

With the pilot successfully concluded, pharmacies across Ontario are now being involved in the vaccination rollout process. All three MEDS locations continue to deliver vaccinations, and Waterloo grads are keeping their eyes out for even more ways to support the vaccination effort.

“Louis and I have also supported the training and assessing of pharmacy technicians for the Injection Training Certificate program,” says Yang.  “This certification from the Ontario Pharmacists Association allows pharmacy technicians to administer the COVID-19 vaccines as well!”

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