The UMKC School of Dentistry will collaborate with the School of Pharmacy to begin offering free COVID-19 vaccinations to patients visiting its dental clinics beginning July 26.
Melanie Simmer-Beck, Ph.D., R.D.H, chair of the dental school’s Department of Dental Public Health and Behavioral Sciences, said the project brings the two schools together to provide a community-based public health service.
The program is one of many UMKC efforts supported by a $5 million CARES grant from Jackson County to encourage low-income and underserved populations in Kansas City’s east side to receive the COVID vaccine.
“We felt it was important to offer vaccinations to School of Dentistry patients to be acting within the spirit of what this grant was intended to do,” Simmer-Beck said.
More than 1,000 of the dental clinic’s patients come from areas of Kansas City identified as part of the grant’s target audience with the intent of addressing vaccine hesitancy and health equities. Operating under COVID restrictions during the previous year, the dental clinics serviced more than 1,750 patient appointments and saw 576 individual patients who live in those targeted areas. When at full capacity, the dental school’s clinics serve more than 2,200 patients a week and are the largest provider of dental services in the states of Missouri and Kansas.
Simmer-Beck said patients will be notified of the vaccine option when receiving appointment reminders by phone. Student dental providers working in the clinics will also ask their patients if they are interested in receiving the vaccine if they haven’t already done so and obtain the necessary signed consent forms. Patient appointments in the clinics are scheduled Monday through Friday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The School of Pharmacy will initially have certified student and faculty vaccinators on call and available during clinic hours to come to the dental school and administer the shots when requested.
“This is the first time that pharmacy students will be providing a service to School of Dentistry patients,” Simmer-Beck said. “It’s a great opportunity for pharmacy, dental and dental hygiene students to collaborate and learn from one another in a real-world setting.”
UMKC’s pharmacy students and faculty volunteers have played a large role in statewide vaccination efforts since the full-scale rollout of vaccines in January. By March, they had administered more that 17,500 doses of the vaccines at sites throughout Missouri.
Cameron Lindsey, chair of the pharmacy school’s Division of Pharmacy Practice and Administration, said the program will provide patients the ease of being vaccinated without having to see another care provider.
“We have the vaccine and know the logistics of how to mix and store it,” she said. “We’ll help get the dental school get up to speed with the process and model that for them. It’s a team effort. It doesn’t matter who gives the shot. There’s a community need and, interprofessionally, we’re combining our resources to get the vaccine where it’s needed.”
Simmer-Beck said that Russ Melchert, dean of the School of Pharmacy, was instrumental in helping get the dental clinic vaccine program started. Melchert has served as interim dean of the dental school since last September.
“Having Dr. Melchert serve as the interim School of Dentistry dean helped move this notion forward,” she said. “His knowledge about the resources at both schools helped us bring together the right people in a timely manner.”
Melchert said the program is a great opportunity for the two schools to work together to increase access to the vaccines.
“Pharmacy and dentistry are two of the most accessible health care professions for most people in this country and putting them together creates synergistic opportunities to help people live healthier lives,” he said. “Our students have already had a huge impact in providing COVID vaccinations and this creates another great chance for the community to see what great students, staff, and faculty we have at UMKC.”
As an added incentive for dental patients to receive the COVID vaccine, those who return for their second dose will receive a free battery-operated power toothbrush.
“Even if we give just one or two vaccines a day, that’s better than where we were before,” Simmer-Beck said.
Story by: Kelly Edwards
Published: Jul 22, 2021