University of Wisconsin nursing students have joined the effort to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to teachers and other qualifying populations around the southern part of the state.

Students have specifically been involved in vaccination administration in Dane County and Jefferson County. This will expand into Sauk County and Portage County in April, according to a UW News release.

UW nursing student Rylie Wilker said the students had to complete CDC training programs in January when they were first asked to administer the COVID-19 vaccines. Wilker said it is an important experience for nursing students because it lets them get hands-on experience in the field through a public health lens.

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“In the last year, we have relied on public health for our decisions and regulations during the pandemic, so to work from that point of view was super rewarding,” Wilker said. “It’s really important that we all get vaccinated, so I am very grateful to be able to take part in this process.”

Even though much of the population will be eligible for the vaccine in the next month, one-third of the US population is skeptical of the COVID shots, according to AP News.

As a member of the UW Health vaccine task force, UW nursing student Rachael Tomasik said while many are concerned the vaccine alters DNA, online statements purporting these claims are invalid. Tomasik explained the vaccine does not enter the nucleus of atoms, meaning it has no effect on an individual’s DNA.

Tomasik said she reminds those who are nervous about receiving the vaccine of its science and history.

“The truth of it is, back in the [19]80s, they actually started trying to develop an mRNA strand to fight all COVID viruses,” Tomasik said. “I think it eases a lot of anxiety for them to realize that vaccines didn’t just come out of thin air, that it’s been worked on for years and years.”

According to Medical News Today, scientists have been studying coronaviruses for over 50 years, so they had existing data on the structure, genome and life cycle of this type of virus while developing a vaccine to fight the newly-emerged COVID-19 strain.

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For Tomasik, experiences with co-workers and patients will be the most memorable parts of this experience which she will carry into her future work.

“I’ve never worked for a closer-knit group of co-workers. We get along so well and I really do think it’s because we’re in a high-stress situation.” Tomasik said. “We really have this community that jumps at any type of adversity, jumps at any challenges and has grown so well together and that type of culture and experience is like the most valuable thing I’ve ever had.”

According to UW News, medical experts at the university say students gain experience by vaccinating community members. They also earn clinical hours needed for graduation which have been harder to come by during the pandemic.

Wilker said it is hard to get hours sometimes, but when she does get to work, it is highly rewarding.

“It’s a bit difficult to get a spot at the clinics since there are almost 400 students from all of the nursing programs trying to give out vaccines,” Wilker said. “It’s also been super great to see how many people are getting the vaccine. In my 12 hours [worked], I’ve vaccinated easily close to 150 people and there are 6 stations people can get vaccinated at.”

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These nursing students have contributed to the over 2,753,146 vaccine doses that have been administered in Wisconsin so far.

Above all, Tomasik said the experience is a privilege.

“You’re on the frontlines during a global pandemic and a lot of people look at you and are very thankful,” Tomasik said. “But to me, I view it as a privilege that as a college student, I was able to actually do something. I’m privileged I was able to do an extra step and actually help out in the community.”



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