Med Students Instrumental in Vaccinating Albany Neighborhood

For neighbors in Albany’s West Hill community, access to the Covid-19 vaccine has been challenging.

So Koinonia Primary Care, a small clinic founded by Bob (Dr. Bob) Paeglow, MD ’94, stepped in to help.

“Some have no Internet or transportation, many are working multiple jobs or have several children to care for and just don’t have the time to wait on hold or continuously check online for appointments,” recalled Samir El-Sawaf, ’22, while completing his Albany Medical College family medicine rotation with Dr. Bob. “The only solution to help these patients was to get doses to the clinic.”

Not long after their conversation, Dr. Bob got a call from the Albany County Department of Health: 100 doses would arrive within three days. Good news, but how would his small staff schedule 100 patients in such a short time, and then administer that many vaccines?

“To many of these patients, our call was an answer to prayer.” - Samir El-Sawaf, '22

El-Sawaf had a solution. He reached out to second-year student Aidan Sullivan, already familiar with Dr. Bob’s clinic through the College’s Care from the Start service learning program. Within several hours, they had assembled nearly 20 classmates who were willing to help.

“Many of us have gotten to know these patients through our time volunteering at the clinic, Sullivan said. “This is a way for us to use the gift we’ve been given through our time at Koinonia.”

The first step was to determine which patients met the criteria to receive the vaccine.

“Many of these patients have comorbidities or poor prognoses. That’s why this undertaking was so important. These are the people who need the vaccine most,” said El-Sawaf.

The students worked with clinic staff to develop a centralized appointment booking system and spent hours each night calling patients. The response was overwhelming.

“Dr. Bob has developed strong connections to his patients. To many of these patients, our call was an answer to prayer,” El-Sawaf said.

After all 100 doses were scheduled, the students completed the modules and training required in order to administer the vaccine, led by Dr. Bob and Kate Wagner, MD, who serves as faculty advisor to the Care from the Start program.

The clinic was a success, and additional doses are expected to be delivered in the coming weeks, thanks to a group of eager students who say the patients aren’t the only ones benefiting.

“We’re just happy that we were able to share this experience and be this resource for these patients,” said Sullivan.