Welter is part of COVID vaccine team at UNMH

Kelli Jo Welter of Monticello is seen receiving some of the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at UMNH. Welter serves as a PGY1 pharmacy resident. (Photos submitted)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     In May 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelli Jo Welter of Monticello moved to New Mexico to begin her work at the University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) in Albuquerque. She was offered a PGY1 (postgraduate year one) pharmacy residency position at the hospital.

     Just recently, as the government started rolling out the COVID-19 vaccines across the country, Welter got to be part of the historic moment.

     Before moving to New Mexico, Welter graduated with her Doctor of Pharmacy from Drake University.

     “I celebrated (her graduation) at home with my family and then packed up my great grandma’s Buick for my first job as a pharmacist shortly after,” Welter recalled.

     She’s part of a year-long residency that offers a different experience every month.

     “The majority of my time is spent on the floors taking care of patients,” explained Welter, “where I collaborate with physicians, advanced practitioners, dietitians, nurses, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, and students throughout the day.”

     Working in a hospital setting, Welter providers recommendations to prescribers, monitors their drug interactions, educates her patients and other healthcare professionals, and manages her patients’ medication regimen.

     “I ensure their medications are safe and effective,” she added.

     With learning something new each month, Welter has been a part of internal medicine, general pediatrics, pediatric ICU, and academia.

     Before the end of 2020, she was part of administration on the vaccine team.

     “My preceptor was my residency program director, and we were on two subcommittees of the COVID-19 vaccine team at the hospital,” said Welter. This involved meeting several times a week with others as part of the UNMH team, as well as the New Mexico Department of Health.

     UNMH is administering the Pfizer vaccine.

     “The plan for administering the vaccine is rapidly changing as we get more information from the government and the pharmaceutical companies that are developing the vaccine,” Welter said for distribution. Right now, only UNMH staff/employees are receiving the vaccine.

     Welter got to part of an historical moment in receiving the first shipment of the vaccine from the state, which requires ultra-cold storage.

     “We have excellent volunteers who are administering the vaccine, helping with registration, and run the clinic to ensure people receive the vaccine in a safe and timely manner,” she praised of those she works alongside.

     Welter herself also received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

     “The only side effect I had was some soreness at the injection site the day after,” she shared. “It felt no different than the flu vaccine.”

     In New Mexico, as well as all over the country, healthcare professionals and frontline workers are part of the first priority group to receive the vaccine. Welter said, among many reasons, possible exposure to COVID-19 puts these professionals ahead of others.

     Like so many others who continued to work during the pandemic, Welter has seen firsthand how the pandemic impacted her work life from the start.

     “We have not been trained to sustain these high rates of mortality for our patients,” she said of the death rates associated with this virus.

     Like many hospitals around the country, if a patient comes to UNMH for non-COVID-related matters, there may not be a bed available.

     “Hospitals all over the country are pull of patients with COVID,” Welter said. “Our goal as healthcare professionals is to provide high-quality patient care. We need everyone to work together to fight this virus using data, science, and recommendations from our public health experts.”

     Welter said seeing people all over the nation start to receive the vaccine “provides such hope and possibility.

     “I encourage those who are able to receive the vaccine to do so as soon as it becomes available to you,” urged Welter.

     In addition, she encourages people to continue to wear facemasks, practice social distancing, and wash their hands as often as possible.

     Aside from her current residency, Welter is also pursuing a second residency in pediatrics at various children’s hospitals across the country. She plans to specialize as a pediatric pharmacist.


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