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2021 Immunization Champion Awards recognize extraordinary contributions to COVID-19 vaccination, public health
Roger Selvage 50

2021 Immunization Champion Awards recognize extraordinary contributions to COVID-19 vaccination, public health

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Immunization Champions

Immunization Champion Awards Logo

Pharmacists’ vital role as vaccinators and health educators has even greater significance this year as the nation continues the massive effort to vaccinate the population against COVID-19. This year, APhA’s Immunization Champion Awards recognized those pharmacists, organizations, members of the pharmacy profession, and their allies who have made extraordinary contributions to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in their communities and to improve public health.

The 2021 Immunization Champions were honored in March during the APhA2021 Virtual Annual Meeting & Exposition. This year’s program was supported by VaxServe, Merck, and Pfizer.

Congratulations to all the award recipients!

Community Outreach

This award recognizes individuals who have made substantial progress in improving the health of their communities. 

Honorable MentionJeffrey Marentette, RPh
Jeffrey Marentette, RPh
Grand Rapids, MI

Jeffrey Marentette, who has been a Michigan-licensed pharmacist since 1991, has dedicated 10 years of his career in information technology innovation to pharmacy. He and his team created a progressive web application that allows pharmacists to connect with their patients in a new way—through text messaging services.

In 2020, faced with the pressures of the pandemic, a larger-than-normal influenza vaccination season, and the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, Marentette was able to further leverage this technology to transform the way immunization services are delivered. He and his team quickly developed a fully touchless process of outreach, screening, and checkout of patients getting flu shots.

Marentette challenged his team to further expand this technology to accommodate COVID-19 vaccinations. The robust technology platform now includes six core components: patient registration, dynamic selection logic to follow phased guideline approaches, clinic scheduling, two-way communication, second-dose follow-up, and an immunization portal that facilitates CDC and state reporting. An effective liaison between the development team and pharmacists, Marentette helped create solutions to implementation barriers and collaborated with STChealth to ensure all state and national reporting requirements were met.

Most important, Marentette’s technology has transformed the way pharmacists can communicate with their patients. Through his team’s efforts, 81% of patients elected to be contacted through enhanced text-messaging services. Marentette and his team have also collaborated with businesses and community groups to determine the best way to register their employees and members for the COVID-19 vaccine. Their innovation enabled pharmacists to deliver nearly 300,000 immunizations in 4 months this year.

Brian Winbigler, PharmD, MBANational Winner
Brian Winbigler, PharmD, MBA
Maryville, TN

Pharmacist Brian Winbigler has been a vaccine advocate and immunizer since graduating from pharmacy school in 2014.

In his hometown of Blount County, TN, Winbigler collaborated with the school district to open a freestanding clinic. Profits from the clinic are reinvested to provide no-cost immunizations and medical care to uninsured students and staff.

He serves on the Blount County Board of Health, provides annual in-service trainings to all first responders, and conducts continuing medical education training in controlled substance prescribing at the local hospital.

Winbigler leveraged his influence in 2020 to promote the development and subsequent acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines. Through his relationship with community stakeholders ranging from the chief of police and sheriff to directors of health departments and local hospitals, he gained access to their respective audiences to talk about new vaccine technology, Operation Warp Speed, and the clinical trial process.

In addition, Winbigler recruited members from virtually all community sectors to participate in a vaccine trial. Working with a longtime friend, Winbigler developed a news series hosted by a trusted local news anchor to provide a nonbiased, real-world account of the vaccine trial process. The series highlighted the pharmacist’s role as one of the only unblinded participants in the Pfizer–BioNTech study.

Winbigler is a consultant to local hospital administrators and health department directors on how best to receive, store, distribute, and administer the COVID-19 vaccines.

Individual Practitioner

These individuals exemplify pharmacists’ impact on patient care and positively portray the value of pharmacists’ public health activities.

Grace Lee, PharmD, PhD, BCPSHonorable Mention
Grace Lee, PharmD, PhD, BCPS
San Antonio, TX

Working collaboratively with UT’s Schools of Nursing and Medicine, Environmental Health and Safety, and Information Technology, Grace Lee leads the University of Texas (UT) at Austin College of Pharmacy’s vaccination efforts in San Antonio. Lee has deep clinical and research expertise in COVID-19 and other vaccines and in coordinating multidisciplinary efforts. She has advocated for pharmacists’ roles in vaccine storage, preparation, administration, and training.

Lee has led pharmacy operations for the UTHealth San Antonio’s COVACC clinic, which has prepared more than 20,000 Pfizer–BioNTech COVID vaccine doses for its health care system. All doses have been prepared exclusively by college personnel who have worked diligently to ensure the vaccine’s complicated storage and
handling requirements are met. Lee has represented the value of pharmacists in this historic and incredibly complex vaccination effort, one that has garnered media attention.

Krista Capehart, PharmD, BCACP, AE-CNational Winner
Krista Capehart, PharmD, BCACP, AE-C
Winfield, WV

West Virginia was the only state to opt out of the federal long-term vaccination program and instead use independent and community chain pharmacies throughout the state. As director of professional and regulatory affairs for the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, Krista Capehart has been credited as the chief architect of this plan. West Virginia has not only defied initial expectations but has been leading the way in vaccine distribution. It was the first state to complete COVID vaccinations for patients in nursing homes and has expanded to other populations.

To achieve program goals, Capehart collaborates with numerous organizations and individuals, including the State Vaccine Planning Committee and the National Guard. With the help of 250 pharmacies across the state and the state’s schools of pharmacy, access to COVID vaccinations is expanding to other priority groups.

Corporation/Institution

Focusing on wellness, prevention, and the creation of systems of care, this award category recognizes corporations or institutions that have developed practice models supporting pharmacists’ immunization roles. This year’s recipients have also contributed to the profession’s response to the COVID-19 fight.

Purdue University PharmacyHonorable Mention
Purdue University Pharmacy
West Lafayette, IN

Purdue University Pharmacy facilitated the delivery of 20,681 immunizations during 2020. One of the pharmacy’s largest efforts on campus focused on flu vaccines. To prevent a “twindemic” of influenza and COVID-19, the university mandated flu vaccines for all faculty, staff, and students. A campus planning committee led by two pharmacists engaged students, faculty, and practitioners from nursing, medicine, and other health disciplines. In addition, pharmacy program alumni were invited to assist with the clinics, which gave them an opportunity to give back, fight the pandemic, and work with future pharmacists.

Despite the decrease in immunization rates that occurred for many patient populations as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pharmacy team provided more influenza, meningitis B, hepatitis B, varicella, rabies, and HPV vaccines in 2020 than in 2019. In November 2020, the pharmacy team also began planning an education and vaccination campaign focusing on HPV.

Rhode Island Pharmacist AssociationNational Winner
Rhode Island Pharmacist Association
Warwick, RI

During the spring of 2020, the Rhode Island Pharmacist Association (RIPA) sought to clearly, efficiently, and effectively communicate strong evidence-based data on COVID-19 treatments. The association created the RIPA Town Hall, a web show featuring more than 40 weeks of episodes that have engaged with health professionals across the spectrum of care. The show features personal and evidence-based discussion to enable those involved in vaccine administration to provide correct information and respond to vaccine questions, whether scientific or concerning vaccine hesitancy.

A recent show focused on issues surrounding vaccines and fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. This was driven by medical and nursing colleagues asking for more information in this specific area. To date, approximately 1,000 engagements with this episode have occurred.

Another strength of the show is helping RIPA members provide support for the vaccine rollout. The show has worked directly with three of the four major organizations providing vaccines in Rhode Island to provide additional volunteer staff to help in the vaccine efforts.

Pharmacy Team Member

This award recognizes individuals who are not pharmacists but have advocated for immunization efforts and pharmacist-delivered immunizations. Individuals could include a pharmacy technician, store manager, or other support staff.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, these individuals are even more critical to providing care to their communities, and we thank each of them for their collaboration, teamwork, commitment, and support.

Sara Dreyer, CPhTNational Winner
Sara Dreyer, CPhT
Iowa City, IA

Sara Dreyer has a unique background. Before she became a certified pharmacy technician, she was a director/coordinator for the group homes served by Towncrest Pharmacy. These group homes care for a very complex and complicated patient population: individuals with intellectual disabilities and traumatic brain injuries in addition to any physical disabilities or medical conditions they may have.

Dreyer is not only certified but also one of the checking technicians for the Technician Final Verification Program. When Iowa’s governor authorized the emergency use of pharmacy technicians to administer COVID-19 vaccines, Dreyer was one of five technicians who took the training and received her certificate of completion. She has been administering COVID-19 vaccines in addition to her other duties overseeing Towncrest Pharmacy’s group home component.

Dreyer, who has boundless energy and a positive outlook, was interviewed by a CNBC reporter late last year about her role in providing immunizations.

Friend of Pharmacy

This award recognizes a nonpharmacist who has supported, facilitated, or advocated for the pharmacist’s role in providing  immunizations.

Mike Popovich, CEO, STChealthMike Popovich,
CEO, STChealth
Phoenix, AZ

Through advocacy and action, Mike Popovich has supported the pharmacy profession’s immunization roles. He has been instrumental in connecting immunization and disease registries with public health service priorities.

Popovich has been a strong advocate by listening to pharmacists, promoting pharmacists’ role to decision makers, and devising ways to improve systems and processes that impact immunization rates within our communities. Popovich supports 35,000 pharmacy locations that process an average of 1 million immunization records per day, impacting 70 million lives.

In his work with the APhA Foundation on Project ImPACT: Immunizations, a pharmacy practice demonstration project, Popovich showed that bidirectional reporting of immunization data enables pharmacies to provide 40% more immunizations per patient encounter—increasing immunization rates by leveraging technology his team developed.

Throughout his more than 33 years of working with public health, Popovich has supported pharmacists’ ability to report and retrieve important immunization information to enhance pharmacy-based immunization activities. In addition, he and his team developed MyIR Mobile, a free app that allows users to view their immunization history, get vaccine reminders, and print their official records.

Popovich and his team also facilitated a public–private partnership called the “Navigators” to prepare for and address challenges related to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Travel Health

Given the lack of global travel and the focus on addressing COVID-19, APhA has placed this award on hold until 2022.

APhA’s Pharmacy Technician Immunization Program

Since 1996, the APhA Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery certificate training program has prepared more than nearly 400,000 pharmacists and student pharmacists to administer vaccines and serve as knowledgeable resources within their communities. And now, in response to COVID-19 needs, APhA offers a Pharmacy Technician Program to train pharmacy technicians as vaccinators under the supervision of an immunizing practitioner.

Originally developed by Washington State University (WSU) and revised through a partnership between WSU and APhA, the APhA/WSU Pharmacy-Based Immunization Administration by Pharmacy Technicians training program explores the expanding role of the pharmacy technician by providing additional skills training to administer immunizations. 

This two-part program emphasizes a health care team collaboration between pharmacists and technicians that seeks to improve population health by increasing immunization rates in states that allow technicians to immunize.

To date, APhA has trained more than 80,000 pharmacy technicians. This brings a significant pharmacy workforce to the COVID-19 pandemic fight.

Featuring an online self-study component combined with a live seminar that teaches hands-on immunization techniques, the program provides 6 hours of continuing education for technicians and pharmacists.

For more information, contact education@aphanet.org or visit www.pharmacist.com.

COVID-19 Heroes

The APhA Foundation has launched a COVID-19 Heroes campaign to recognize those who have gone above and beyond. Visit the APhA Foundation website at www.aphafoundation.org to learn more about this initiative.

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