AU students initiate program to increase vaccination rates, August 17, 2018

A pair of Harrison School of Pharmacy students are teaming up to help those in need in Lee County.

Adam Archer and Carl Okerberg, both members of the HSOP Class of 2020, have initiated a program to increase vaccination rates and address barriers to medication access and adherence.

Working through the Mercy Medical Clinic, a free and charitable clinic for the underserved located in Auburn, the pair will focus on introducing vaccine services and helping find resources and eliminate barriers for patients in affording medications to improve health outcomes.

Still in the early stages of implementing the program, Archer and Okerberg were selected as two of 15 Albert Schweitzer Fellows in the state of Alabama. Schweitzer Fellows develop and implement service projects that address the root causes of health disparities in under-resourced communities, while also fulfilling their academic responsibilities. Each project is implemented in collaboration with a community-based health and/or social service organization.

“The program assists the students in developing the overall structure and implementation of their projects, while also bring together motivated students from different healthcare fields in an interprofessional format,” Archer explained.

Needs of the underserved

Okerberg initially came across the fellowship after communicating with another student as part of a national organization.

“Through national involvement in professional organizations I found myself communicating with a University of Southern California student whose email signature included that she was a Schweitzer Fellow for Life,” Okerberg said. “The work of Paul Farmer today and Albert Schweitzer before him has had a profound influence on my professional philosophy, so I recognized Schweitzer’s name and proceeded to ask what that meant. In doing so, I happily discovered the fellowship and that a Birmingham chapter had formed in recent years.”

When the pair teamed up, they started out by asking what a pharmacist does best in the healthcare world, particularly when it comes to addressing the needs of the underserved. The brainstorming eventually led them to Mercy Medical Clinic.

“From there I began working with Dr. Jeanna Sewell, an HSOP faculty member practicing ambulatory care at Mercy, and Laura Bell, the executive director at Mercy, to identify their needs,” said Okerberg. “The inspiration for the project ultimately came out of these preliminary conversations and the excited encouragement from everyone involved.”

Objectives of the project

The project has a few different layers to address current needs of the patient population. The first is to create a vaccination service for Mercy Medical, a service that currently is not offered. The hope is to offer free or discounted vaccinations to the uninsured patients who are the most in need.

The second step is to increase medication access for current patients, potentially expanding the dispensing capabilities of Mercy Medical Clinic and increasing the availability of needed drugs.

“Being able to serve my community at this level while still in school has honestly been a dream come true for me,” Archer said. “The main reason I decided to become a pharmacist was to be able to help make a difference in people’s lives. I am extremely thrilled to be able to serve my community by creating something that could help improve the healthcare of someone who may need it most.”

For Okerberg, the experience with Mercy Medical Clinic has made a significant impact on him, and he is looking forward to making an impact in people’s lives.

“To me, a key component of living a big life is to be connected and invested in community,” Okerberg said. “It’s an honor to join such a caring team that has such a meaningful impact.”