Free
Letters to the Editor  |   December 2020
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Author Notes
  • Dr Cain is the CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. 
Article Information
Letters to the Editor   |   December 2020
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, December 2020, Vol. 120, 943-944. doi:https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2020.155
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, December 2020, Vol. 120, 943-944. doi:https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2020.155
To the Editor: 
In the midst of the current pandemic, we as osteopathic physicians (DOs) have a critical opportunity to live our philosophy. While a vaccine for the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) is not yet available, the influenza vaccine is. As DOs, we know the dangers of the annual flu,1 and we also recognize the devastating implications for individuals with comorbid influenza and COVID-19 viral infections.2 
How can we help ensure our patients get vaccinated against both viruses? DOs can do 2 things: volunteer to help vaccinate, and advocate individually or through our state osteopathic societies for DO students to play their part. To address this second, cost-effective solution – which is neither part of the federal vaccine distribution plan3 nor included in the related state guidance4 from the National Governors Association — the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) has spearheaded an initiative called Students Assist America (SAA).5 We need to mobilize the tens of thousands of DO and other students who are already trained to safely provide injections with supervision. We just need our public health and elected officials to allow it. 
AACOM launched SAA with 10 other national associations representing health professions students. The interprofessional collaborative addresses 2 issues: first, how students can help meet the nation's healthcare needs during and after COVID-19; and second, how academic institutions can creatively fill the gaps in clinical education created when training sites cannot accommodate students on location. SAA spans osteopathic medicine, allopathic medicine, nursing, pharmacy, physician assistant programs, dental health, veterinary medicine, social work, psychology, optometry, and public health. 
In some states with institutional agreements, supervised students already administer shots to patients.6 However, these arrangements are not consistent nor widespread enough to meet the onslaught of need. As we are keenly aware, the effects of COVID-19 go beyond the physical; the accompanying severe mental health issues can also be addressed by students who can screen patients and staff hotlines.7 
Many governors have allowed practitioners with expired licenses to treat patients during this crisis,8 and they should provide flexibility now in recognizing that there is another safe, viable way to expand capacity and help protect public health. Our state osteopathic societies already play a vital role in promoting public health, and by spreading this message, we're continuing to demonstrate leadership by living our osteopathic principles. 
We ask people 18 years and older to sign up for war; as we exceed 210,000 American lives lost to COVID-19, it's time to give health professions students the chance to help us win this battle. 
References
Estimated influenza illnesses, medical visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the united states – 2019-2020 influenza season. Centers for Disease Control website (cdc.gov). Updated October 6, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2019-2020.html
Broadfoot M. Coronavirus and the flu: a looming double threat. Scientific American. September 6, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2020. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coronavirus-and-the-flu-a-looming-double-threat/
US Department of Health and Human Services. From the factory to the frontlines: the operation warp speed strategy for distributing a covid-19 vaccine. Published September 16, 2020. Accessed October 21, 2020. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/strategy-for-distributing-covid-19-vaccine.pdf
Association National Governors. Preparing for the covid-19 vaccine and considerations for mass distribution. Published August 3, 2020. Accessed October 21, 2020. https://www.nga.org/memos/covid-19-vaccine-considerations-mass-distribution/
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. Mobilizing the future health care workforce: students assist America. Updated October 2020. Accessed October 21, 2020. https://www.aacom.org/mobilize
Rizal RE, Mediratta RP, Xie J, et al. Galvanizing medical students in the administration of influenza vaccines: the stanford flu crew. Adv Med Educ Pract. 2015;6:471-7. doi: 10.2147/AMEP.S70294 [PubMed]
Panchal N, Kamal R, Orgera K, et al. The implications of covid-19 for mental health and substance abuse. Kaiser Family Foundation website. Published August 21, 2020. Accessed October 21, 2020. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
states US and territories expediting licensure for inactive/retired licensees in response to covid-19. Federation of State Medical Boards website. Published March 30, 2020. Last updated October 13, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2020. https://www.fsmb.org/siteassets/advocacy/pdf/states-expediting-licensure-for-inactive-retired-licensees-in-response-to-covid19.pdf