Building a Team of Allies
ONE DAY IN LATE APRIL, HOWARD SCHAPIRO, M.D.’80, gathered with a group of about 50 nurses, vaccinators, pharmacists and support staff to pose for a group photo (at right). He stood toward the back, cracking
a wide smile behind his mask. The photo was a tribute to the people who had worked to set up the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex. Schapiro, UVM Health Network Chief Population and Quality Officer, remembered all too well
how overwhelming it had seemed when they first began setting up the clinic four months earlier.
Months before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rolled out a system for patients to self-schedule appointments, before anyone
even really understood how a mass vaccination system was going to work, the State of Vermont put out calls to health care organizations asking them to create high-capacity vaccination centers as fast as possible. The UVM Medical Center responded, administering
the first COVID-19 vaccines in the state at a small clinic set up at the hospital. But more was needed, and soon the most urgent and profound public health challenge of our lifetime fell onto Schapiro’s desk: How to vaccinate tens of thousands of
people as quickly as possible.
“Today, sitting here, I think of that as a privilege,” he says. “But I didn’t think that on that day.”
Understanding what was at stake, he started building an army of allies, the vaccine their only
weapon. He called in experts from UVM Medical Center’s pharmacy department and technology team, as well as the Network’s Critical Care Transport Team, who had experience setting up the UVM Health Network’s first mobile COVID-19 testing
site. Next, the Expo, for help with the site and facilities; Green Mountain Messenger, for assistance shuttling vaccines back and forth every day from UVM Medical Center to the Expo, following exacting temperature protocols. The lineup of partners was
long, but time was short.
At times, there were significant hurdles, especially at the beginning. While the state had provided a list of first responders to contact—those in Tier 1A, eligible for the first vaccinations—the list was
incomplete; fire departments, police departments, EMTs and other first responders in Chittenden County didn’t have complete contact information themselves. So, it was left to Schapiro’s team to track down thousands of people.
started making hundreds and hundreds of phone calls every day,” said Scott O’Neil, head of UVM Health Network’s Patient Service Access Center.
Schapiro tapped Todd Young, head of the UVM Health Network’s Telehealth program,
to help things move faster. Young worked with people like senior project manager Roberta Mitchell, to come up with a patient self-schedule model ahead of the CDC’s rollout, allowing the number of vaccine doses administered to rise from a few dozen
a day to hundreds.
By the end of January, the UVM Medical Center and the vaccine clinic at the Expo had administered more than 10,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to frontline and community health workers.
From there, Schapiro, a former
chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, put together a team of what he calls “very good thinkers.” People like Nurse Manager Nicole Courtois, of UVM Medical Center’s process improvement department, who took over from Mike Conti from
the Critical Care Transport Team. Her mission: scale up operations as much as vaccine supply would allow.
By late May, about 120,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered by Network COVID-19 clinics throughout the region, at least 65,000
at the Expo alone.
“To a person, the team’s commitment, their willingness to give their time, to think outside the box… to do whatever it took to get it done, has been just amazing,” says Schapiro, who clearly enjoys
talking about the whole experience… now. He credits his team for making the clinic what he refers to as “the happiest place on earth.”
“During my entire anesthesia career, I could probably say I contributed to saving
a few lives,” says Schapiro. “Today I can say that I’ve been lucky to be part of a phenomenal team that has so far put more than 80,000 doses of a lifesaving vaccine in people’s arms.”
On that photo-op day in late
April, the whole group was giddy. They knew they had saved many lives and given hope to thousands more.