WVU, WV VACS team win national award for interprofessional collaboration with COVID-19 vaccination efforts


Two West Virginia University School of Pharmacy students, Kara Howard, left, and Mary Jane Braham, were among the volunteers for COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Spring 2021. (WVU Photo)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University and the West Virginia Vaccine Administration, Collaboration, and Support Team (VACS Team) are recipients of the 2021 George E. Thibault Nexus Award for the “Giving It Our Best Shot!” COVID-19 vaccination effort.

Gina M. Baugh

The initiative, a partnership among the National Guard, the Department of Health and Human Resources, and the Higher Education Policy Commission, resulted in more than 1,000 health professional students across the state enrolling to help with vaccine clinics. Their roles included assisting those with mobility issues, registration, administering the vaccine and post-monitoring after vaccination.

“It was an honor to be part of a team that brought students, faculty and community partners together from across the state to help the fight against COVID-19,” Dr. Gina M. Baugh, director of Interprofessional Education at the WVU Health Sciences Center, said. “This is a real-life example of the success that can be accomplished through interprofessional education and collaborative practice. It is our hope that these collaborative efforts can continue in the future to make West Virginia a healthier place.”

The George E. Thibault Nexus Award celebrates exemplary interprofessional collaboration in the United States and those who are thinking and acting differently where practice and education connect in health systems.

2021 Nexus Summit submissions showed outstanding interprofessional collaborations of health professions students, educators and practitioners to meet the needs of their local and regional communities.

We are grateful for the national recognition of our interprofessional West Virginia Vaccine Administration, Collaboration, and Support Team. This has been a true team effort made possible through powerful partnerships and the dedicated work of faculty, staff, and students across the state. The implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine program has been and remains an all-hands-on-deck mission, and students continue to answer the call to help West Virginia communities do amazing work to assist others.

Dr. Lisa Costello, A Principal Investigator of the WV VACS grant and a WVU School of Medicine assistant professor.

Prior to working in communities, students complete an online curriculum that is designed to enhance their knowledge about COVID-19 vaccines and their administration. Once fully trained, groups of students work under supervision with local health providers to give vaccines and support data entry. Higher education institutions determine whether students participate in this voluntary program for either course credit or community service.

“I am incredibly proud of the work the WV VACS Team has done to assist with West Virginia’s vaccination efforts,” said J. Skylar Upton, a WVU exercise physiology graduate and WV VACS Team project coordinator. “This has been a beneficial learning experience for me as the Teams Project Coordinator to work with institutions of higher education, health sciences students, community partners and many others. It has been amazing to see what can be accomplished when healthcare professionals, students and community leaders work together.”

Kara Howard, left, and Mary Jane Braham, volunteer for COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Spring 2021

Sarah Armstrong Tucker, West Virginia’s Chancellor of Higher Education, said the national recognition for the WV VACS Team is well-deserved.

When their fellow West Virginians needed them, our health sciences students and higher education community came together for not only an exceptional learning experience but also a tremendous community service,” Armstrong Tucker said. “We were thrilled to support this effort with funding through our Rural Health Initiative, and I’m proud that so many students came together in commitment to their chosen professions and to serving the health needs of West Virginians.”

Other team members on the female-led project include Dr. Krista Capehart, Dr. Gretchen Garofoli, and Amy Summers.

Other 2021 winners of the Thibault Nexus Award include the University of Illinois Chicago, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Unity Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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