MISSOULA – Capitalizing on its robust bioscience infrastructure, research facilities and statewide network of student and alumni pharmacists, the University of Montana will provide and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to Montanans. The State of Montana announced the flagship as an approved vaccine holding and distributor center this week, allowing UM to serve as one of Montana’s most significant vaccine distributors.
Kenneth Chatriand, manager of the UM Pharmacy and coordinator of community advanced student pharmacy practice, said the approval to hold and later distribute the vaccine through UM is a testament to the University’s public health response, thanks to its health and medicine programs and resources for the state.
This year, UM was named one of the nation’s top 10 universities in solving the pandemic – on the same list as Oxford and Harvard, largely due to its vaccine research and ability to respond to the public health crisis.
“Not only do we have the physical resources needed to house the vaccine, but we have top-rated health science programs, including pharmacy, and a statewide presence of student interns and pharmacists trained as immunizers and prepared for direct patient care,” Chatriand said.
UM has not yet received the vaccine, and the timeline for distribution and delivery still is being worked out with state and federal health authorities.
Chatriand said UM health programs, faculty, staff and students will work collaboratively and proactively in administering the vaccine to students and community members and then eventually statewide as dictated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control vaccine rollout phases.
“We are working on organizing a drive-through vaccine program, where our pharmacy students will be able to actually administer the vaccine to other UM students and eventually community members,” he said. “Later, as more vaccines become available, we’ll be organizing a statewide delivery program to our rural communities, hospitals and pharmacies.”
Working with a network of statewide pharmacies in the Montana Family Pharmacy Group, UM plans to mobilize its many UM pharmacy alumni and current pharmacy students for vaccine rollout and immunizations.
“One positive note about the pandemic is that it’s allowing us to flex our muscle more in terms of what pharmacists can do for the larger public health of the state, and provide our students real-time experience and training in addressing and being a part of this national response,” Chatriand said.
The UM Pharmacy is owned and operated by the University’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy and is located in UM’s Curry Health Center. Chatriand will work with students staffed at the pharmacy and with UM’s College of Health programs, including nursing students at Missoula College, to organize vaccine distribution.
With existing subzero freezers required to store the Pfizer vaccine, UM earned approval to house and distribute the lifesaving doses from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Montana State Department of Public Health and Human Services.
UM currently has three of the freezers available, and a fourth one will be delivered next month. The University also can make additional subzero freezers available, as they are currently be used for other University research, said Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president of research and creative scholarship.
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at temperatures of minus 90 F or below and the Moderna vaccine must be stored below 48 F.
Whittenburg said the low temperatures required for vaccine storage have forced those wishing to become storage and distribution sites to scramble to obtain these freezers, which are now in short supply.
“Fortunately, they are relatively common at research universities working in bioscience and biochemistry, like UM,” he said. “We have a number of these freezers we could use, if that becomes necessary. UM researchers understand this a community effort, and access to the required facilities is something UM can provide.”
Whittenburg said UM’s capacity to respond to the pandemic, as well as host and distribute the vaccine, reflects its mission as public research university.
“We see this moment as an opportunity to support the State Department of Public Health and Human Services and provide greater collaboration with county health officials,” he said.
This year, UM broke a record for the largest amount of research expenditures in school history, exceeding $100 million for the first time in University history. A bulk of the grant awards were in UM’s health and bioscience fields and UM’s Center for Translational Medicine. In February, that center was awarded $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health to produce a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Contact: Kenneth Chatriand, pharmacist pharmacy manager, 406-243-5171, firstname.lastname@example.org.