Alanna Reid | Staff Photographer
Pitt Influenzers, a new student organization, is going viral as it works to spread information about vaccinations.
Catherine Pressimone, a rising third-year medical student and a co-founder of the organization, said it centers around three areas that need more attention and awareness from community members.
“It’s a three-prong club with the first prong being educational outreach, and we do that by working with local physicians and hospital groups,” Pressimone said. “The second prong is to provide more accessibility and information about vaccines, and the third prong is policy initiative where we work to introduce and reform health care policies that we feel need to be better updated and aligned with today’s society.”
The Influenzers are currently working on proposing a policy to local representatives to let dentists administer influenza and COVID-19 vaccines. This proposal follows similar legislation from other states like Oregon, one of the first states to approve such a plan.
Regina Munsch, a first-year dental student, said this proposed policy will help increase access to vaccines and better represent the role dentists play in the health care field.
“We’re thinking that if dentists and eventually dental students are mobilized to be able to give vaccines then that means that there will be more accessibility for patients in all areas, urban and suburban and rural, especially patients in rural areas … to be able to obtain vaccines,” Munsch said.
Munsch said while people are supposed to go to their physicians once a year, people tend to see their dentists at least twice a year. For many underserved communities, dentists end up being sole personal care providers for some people, so she hopes this policy will enable underserved communities better access to health care and vaccines.
“People are technically supposed to go to their primary care physician yearly, but there’s sometimes a higher rate and frequency of retention with dentists and a large portion of the population’s six month cleaning falls during flu season, so I think that looking into the future the ability to administer vaccines could absolutely be an asset to dental practice but more importantly an asset to patients,” Munsch said.
Josh Pogue, a third-year pharmacy student who is certified in vaccine administration, said he has no doubts in the abilities of dentists to administer vaccines, especially when students are able to administer vaccines. Pitt pharmacy students began administering COVID-19 vaccines in December.
“I have actually undergone vaccination training and it’s not too difficult of a process. And while there is training that needs to be done, it is training that is entirely feasible for a dentist to understand and apply to their practice,” Pogue said.
Pressimone, who is leading the organization’s policy initiative, said they are currently conducting surveys and focus groups in addition to reaching out to local representatives about their proposals.
“We have sent out surveys to local dentists to get their thoughts on the subject, we are conducting focus groups, and we are starting to contact representatives about our policy proposal,” Pressimone said. “While we don’t know the exact timeline of when we will accomplish our policy initiative, we hope to continue recruiting members so that we can spread the word and push for the approval of this policy quickly during the pandemic.”
Shreyaa Nagajothi, a first-year neuroscience student, said she is excited to be part of the club that can help make an impact in the community.
“During a very difficult time, it seems like there isn’t very much that we can do about the pandemic and we all feel a bit helpless,” Nagajothi said. “Being part of an organization that is encouraging people to get the vaccine, encouraging people to stay healthy and taking active roles in health policy is truly the best thing that anyone can do to help out during this time.”