This fall, medical and physician assistant students vaccinated thousands of people against the flu. The vaccinations could help prevent hospitals from being inundated with flu patients if COVID-19 cases surge.
November 13, 2020 - By Mandy Erickson
Sporting scrubs, gloves, a surgical mask and a face shield, Sofia Georghiou sat under a canopy on a lawn near Stanford Hospital. The first-year student in physician assistant studies was ready to protect the Stanford community against the flu.
While the country waits for a coronavirus vaccine to arrive, administering flu shots will reduce the number of people who become sick with influenza. And fewer flu patients will lessen the burden on hospitals caring for people stricken by the coronavirus.
“We're doing what we can to protect people during COVID-19,” Georghiou said.
Like many first-year medical and physician assistant students at the Stanford School of Medicine, Georghiou is a member of Flu Crew, a student-run organization. Every fall, Flu Crew vaccinates Stanford students, staff and faculty, as well as people outside the university community who lack access to health care, such as farmworkers and homeless people.
The shots are free.
Inoculating oranges, one another
Flu Crew members spend a day being trained to administer the vaccine: They learn about the influenza virus, observe a shot being given and practice sticking needles into oranges. Once they’ve mastered inoculating fruit, they vaccinate one another. Then, they’re ready: The students are permitted to give the shots as long as a physician is present to supervise.
This fall, besides running on-campus clinics, they vaccinated workers at a mushroom farm, as well as churchgoers, library visitors and Salvation Army customers.
“At your first vaccination event, the hardest part is overcoming your nerves,” Georghiou said.
“But once you get over that, you don’t think about it anymore,” added her classmate, Monica Lanning, who sat across a table from Georghiou. “It’s cool. We already feel like experts in one skill.”
Coordinating the vaccinations is always work for the student organizers and faculty advisers, but this year, the pandemic created a whole new set of logistical challenges: All shots had to be given outdoors. Patients had to stay 6 feet apart and wear masks. And Flu Crew members needed to wear personal protective equipment.
“We spent much of the summer figuring out what the flow of patients would look like,” said Walt Newman, MD, a former faculty member who launched Flu Crew 19 years ago and still advises the students. “Plus handwashing, distancing, marking out lines where people could stand. Everything was different.”
Despite this year’s challenges, Flu Crew wrapped up its vaccination efforts with 11 off-campus and seven on-campus vaccination sessions, providing more than 2,500 shots.
The students gained experience working with patients. Also, in a year of virtual classrooms and gatherings, volunteering for Flu Crew gave them a chance to get outside and meet new people.
“It’s nice to see people in person, to find out how they’re doing during the pandemic,” Georghiou said of talking with the patients, their arms exposed and prepped for a needle.
“Also,” she added, “I got a chance to connect with my classmates.”
Although Flu Crew is finished for the year, Stanford Health Care patients can obtain flu shots by contacting their physicians. If you are not a Stanford Health Care patient, contact your own health care provider.
About Stanford Medicine
Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.