Nursing, pre-med students administer COVID-19 vaccine

Grace Robertson

On Dec. 21, Sofia Espitia Barrios administered the first shot of her nursing career: a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. She said she never imagined her first time giving a shot would play a part in ending a global pandemic. 

“It just felt like finally, we could help out the only way we can as nursing students,” nursing senior Espitia Barrios said. “This is what I actually want to do.” 

Espitia Barrios drove two and a half hours from her hometown of Houston to administer the vaccine at UT Health Austin’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic. She and other UT nursing students were some of the first to deliver and receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Austin. 

UT Health Austin was one of four sites in Texas to receive the first rollout of vaccines in mid-December. UT nursing and pre-med students were able to sign up via email to help administer the vaccine to frontline health care workers including nurses, doctors and surgeons. 

Nursing senior Emily Houston administered the vaccine in mid-December. After pharmacists and pharmacy students mixed and diluted the liquids for each vaccine, Houston said she would receive the syringe and deliver the shot. 

“I actually vaccinated one of my professors, which was so scary because she taught me how to do it,” Houston said. 

Houston said as future medical professionals, nursing students such as herself administering the vaccine highlights the critical role nurses play on the frontlines of patient care. Almost 3,000 health care workers have died of COVID-19 since March.

“I’ve seen the way a community can rally together to do something this big,” Houston said. “The teamwork and collaboration we’ve learned (are) so important. We have a class about it, and I saw it firsthand.” 

Biology junior Nook Pham drove from Dallas to Austin and spent two weeks living with a friend to work at the vaccine clinic in early January. Growing up in a family of doctors, he said he has practiced giving intravenous injections since he was a child. 

“I had that experience coming in, but I know for other volunteers, that had not been the case,” Pham said. “This was during winter break, and I figured (I) might as well give Austin a little bit of a visit and help give vaccines.” 

Despite some pre-med students’ lack of experience, Pham, who is a member of Longhorn EMS, said many want to volunteer at the clinics.

“There’s a lot of interest in this,” Pham said. “(Pre-med students) don’t have those kinds of volunteer opportunities (they used to) because of restrictions.” 

Nursing senior Kaylee Knights worked at the vaccine clinic on Dec. 15, the first day the COVID-19 vaccine was available. She said she worked a four-hour shift that morning in front of an audience of news crews.  

Knights said she often worries about her grandparents’ safety during the pandemic, and working the first day of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was a relief. 

“I’ve been feeling really encouraged lately since we’re in the 1B phase now,” Knights said. “For me, that’s been the saddest part — seeing the elderly getting (COVID-19) and being hospitalized for it.”  

After administering up to 25 doses by the end of her first day, Espitia Barrios plans to graduate next semester and work with COVID-19 patients. 

“(Having) given the vaccine before will help me (learn) those skills I need to sharpen that I never got the chance to,” Espitia Barrios said. “It just feels like finally I can breathe.”