PhD alumnus Gokul Raj Pullagura shares his experiences working as a vaccine educator on the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved in Canada
There are many steps before the COVID-19 vaccine gets to your arm.
The journey may seem linear: from development to testing to manufacturing. Shipment to countries around the world and distribution to hospitals and clinics where the vaccine will be administered.
But there are many smaller steps on that journey that aren’t as obvious. Steps that Gokul Raj Pullagura, vaccine educator with Pfizer, understands intimately.
“I moved from Ottawa to Vancouver to join the Vaccines Business Unit at Pfizer,” he says. “As a vaccine educator, it’s my job to understand the details of the company’s products and to educate health-care providers on those products.”
As the vaccine educator for British Columbia and Alberta, he’s responsible for supporting health-care providers in the provinces with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’m new to the role and there’s so much to learn. My portfolio includes all of Pfizer’s vaccines,” he says. “Of course, the focus has been on the COVID-19 vaccine and how I can provide additional educational support to health-care providers who have questions about it.”
His role involves conducting small group presentations on the COVID vaccine, working with immunizers to answer questions, and collaborating with others inside the organization to ensure health-care providers on the ground have all the answers and resources they need. His team provides this support to every single site administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine throughout Canada.
Gokul joined the Pfizer team in November 2020 and hasn’t met a single team member in person yet.
“It’s been a challenging starting a new role at a massive company during the pandemic. But we make great use of videoconference tools and everyone here has helped make the transition as seamless as possible.”
Moving out west involved navigating various public health restrictions, but Gokul managed the transition and is now living with a fellow graduate student alumnus from Waterloo Pharmacy.
“It was serendipitous how everything’s worked out. There’s so much to learn – both living in a new city and starting a new job – and I’m grateful to be in a role where my skillset is so beneficial.”
Gokul, a graduate of Waterloo Pharmacy’s PhD program, is trained as a pharmacist and has robust research experience on the topic of vaccine hesitancy.
“My doctoral research with Professor Nancy Waite, my background as a clinician, my communication skills – this job really is a perfect amalgamation of my experiences and it presents me with so much to learn,” he says.
At his last job, medical writing in Ottawa, Gokul was on a team of about twelve people. His business unit at Pfizer boasts about forty staff, and they’re just a subset of the much larger organization.
“It’s certainly been a transition that way, getting onboarded to this large organization entirely online. But I so appreciate the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives here, both within the team and when collaborating with health-care providers in the field.”
Gokul’s journey has been full of surprises.
“When I was in grad school, I never knew a role like this existed. The way I see it, the horizon is far out there, and you see more details as you walk towards it. But that horizon keeps moving and you never know what new experiences you’ll find along the way until you get there.”
He’s grateful for the experiences he made along the way and the role he can play in the journey of a vaccine.
“It’s a rewarding experience to be able to support vaccine education and contribute to combating COVID-19,” he says. “I did not expect to be in this role today, and I think that’s a good lesson for current grad students. There’s nothing you can’t do, so stay open to opportunities. Take a leap of faith when it comes your way and see where it takes you.”