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What is a vaccine coordinator?

When clinical pharmacist Andrew Vallion took on the added responsibility of vaccine coordinator, he had no idea how important his position would become. His responsibilities sparked our curiosity, so we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

Q: How long have you worked at Bartlett?

A: I have been living in Juneau and working at Bartlett for almost three years. I grew up in Southeast Alaska and love it here.

Q: What does your job entail?

A: Pharmacists are the medication experts of the health care team. We work in collaboration with the hospital care team to ensure patients are on appropriate drug therapies. Many medications require intricate calculations, exact dosages, drug monitoring and an in-depth knowledge to be clinically effective and provide the best patient care.

Q: How did you become the vaccine coordinator, and what are the responsibilities?

A: I had the opportunity to take over as the vaccine coordinator when another pharmacist transitioned to our pharmacy informatics position. The vaccine coordinator is responsible for all vaccines throughout the hospital. My main responsibility is making sure that vaccines maintain their cold chain. If vaccines experience temperature excursions, they can lose viability and become ineffective.

Q: What did the vaccine coordinator do before the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: Initially, I was in charge of storage and handling, trainings, and maintaining inventory of all vaccines at Bartlett. I also managed the Vaccines for Children program, which provides state-supplied hepatitis B vaccines for newborns. Last year we started to expand the role to community outreach programs, like last year's flu vaccine clinic.

Q: How has your role changed as a result of COVID-19?

A: The role really evolved into something a lot larger once the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines came into the picture. Once vaccine development passed clinical trials, it seemed like there were daily meetings, either with the state or the community, to prepare for vaccine rollout. It quickly precipitated into me being responsible for and facilitating distribution of the vaccine throughout the community.

Q: How did the pharmacy change due to COVID-19?

A: The pharmacy has always maintained a high standard of sterility and cleanliness. With the pandemic, we enhanced our practices even more to mitigate exposure to our patients and team members. In addition to universal masking and symptom monitoring, we implemented alternating shifts, extra sanitation steps and alternative ways to interact with our patients.

Q: Bartlett is also the mini-depot for Juneau. What does that mean?

A: Ultracold freezers are hard to come by. Our lab at Bartlett is capable of storing the Pfizer vaccines at -70°C (-94°F) in a safe and controlled environment. Because of this, we also store allocated vaccines for different entities around Juneau, such as Capital City Fire/Rescue and Juneau Public Health.

Q: What's it like to be in your position during this historic time?

A: I never expected to be in a position where I would be able to help make a difference in such an important time. It's very exciting, hard work and a little stressful. This is why I pursued a career in health care, and I'm very proud to be a part of it.

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