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University of Wisconsin-Madison

‘All Hands on Deck’

Brandon Lernor and Lawrence Lernor standing next to each other
Brandon Lernor and his father, School of Pharmacy alum Lawrence Lernor (BS '79). | Photo by Ingrid Laas

Alum Lawrence Lernor is recognized by Illinois Optometric Association for providing interprofessional COVID-19 vaccine training

By Katie Ginder-Vogel

Lawrence Lernor (BS ‘79) was born in the middle of the race toward a safe and effective polio vaccine. He remembers seeing photos of polio patients in iron lungs and the public’s near universal eagerness to be vaccinated against the dangerous disease. He received his own oral polio vaccine in the eighth grade.

Witnessing that historic success stoked his own passion for vaccination, which was rekindled when the chance arose to help administer vaccinations against a new and destructive pandemic: COVID-19.

“We need all hands on deck; we need everybody and anybody,” says Lernor, an alum of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy. “Anytime someone wants a vaccine, I’ll do it.”

In addition to vaccinating hundreds of community members against COVID-19 as a pharmacy manager at Costco, he also leapt at the opportunity to extend his reach and impact. In March 2021, optometrists in Illinois were granted the authority to administer COVID-19 vaccinations — but they needed to be trained. Lernor’s son, Brandon, who serves on the board of directors for the Illinois Optometric Association, invited him to train optometrists to administer COVID-19 vaccines, and he immediately said yes.

Lawrence Lernor and Brandon Lernor during the award ceremony.
The 2021 Dr. Floyd Mizener Friend of Optometry Award being presented to Lawrence Lernor (BS ’79) (center).

“The call was put out for health professionals who currently have vaccination as part of their scope to train and certify optometrists, and I knew my dad would be perfect,” says Brandon Lernor, who serves on the board of directors for the Illinois Optometric Association. “He’s done tens of thousands of vaccines, and he helped train other Chicago-area pharmacists when they were first given the ability to administer vaccines.”

Overall, Lawrence trained about 60 optometrists to administer vaccines, leading the Illinois Optometric Association to honor him with the 2021 Dr. Floyd Mizener Friend of Optometry award. 

“Lawrence Lernor went above and beyond,” says Tim Cundiff, president and chairman of the Illinois Optometric Association board. “We are grateful and appreciative of him helping optometry join in this charge to fulfill the important role of providing vaccinations.”

“I’m not in it for the accolades,” says Lawrence. “I want to beat this thing down. We’re not done, so I’ve been doing whatever it takes to get more people protected from COVID-19.”

Interprofessional training

When pharmacists began administering COVID-19 vaccinations, Lernor jumped in, learning how to prepare and deliver the new vaccines, then trained his Costco colleagues. Soon after, the Illinois Optometric Association partnered with the Illinois College of Optometrists (ICO) to provide a free training course to verify optometrists’ ability to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.

Brandon Lernor, who owns Windy City Eye Care, dba Pearl Optical, in McHenry, Ill., says it was a no-brainer to participate in the vaccination training because he was already trained and certified to give conjunctival injections.

Lawrence Lernor (BS ’79) receives a saline injection from his son, Brandon, during training to deliver COVID-19 vaccines.

“I’m certified to do injections, so I jumped at the chance to use that training, and I recognized how important it was to get everyone who can legally deliver a vaccine trained to do it, for this moment and for the future,” says Brandon. “Optometrists are fully capable of delivering injections and vaccinations, and it increases access to care for patients.”

The training comprised a three-hour online didactic course, followed by a one-hour practical course conducted by ICO faculty, with oversight from practicing healthcare professionals like Lawrence, who are licensed to perform intramuscular injections. The optometrists’ final task was to practice giving a saline injection to another attendee, and Brandon, who was in his father’s class, practiced on his dad.

“I was like, this is fantastic, and he loved it,” Brandon says. “Practicing my saline injection on my dad was a really special moment.” 

Tangible patient impact

A Wisconsin native who was always interested in science and math, Lawrence enrolled at UW–Madison planning to be a pharmacist or doctor. When he began taking pharmacy classes, he fell in love with physiology. 

“I love chemistry and science, but to this day, what pumps me up is physiology,” he says, adding that he’s always thinking about how medications, vaccinations, and illnesses impact human physiology. 

When he graduated from the School of Pharmacy, his cousin offered him a pharmacist position in Phoenix, Arizona. He passed the Arizona NAPLEX and the rigorous California board exam, testing alongside recent PharmD graduates — at the time a new degree issued only in California — and credits his education at the School of Pharmacy for his success on the exams.

“The School was wonderful, I got a great education,” he says. “I’ve always been proud of where I graduated from.”

Brandon Lernor and Lawrence Lernor
Brandon Lernor and his father, School of Pharmacy alum Lawrence Lernor (BS ’79). | Photo by Ingrid Laas

He practiced pharmacy in Arizona for two years before returning to the Midwest to work at Phar-Mor, where he became a district manager, overseeing most of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas. When Phar-Mor went out of business, Lernor worked as a district manager at Illinois grocery chain Dominick’s for five years, then as a district manager at CVS before landing a position with Costco, where he has worked for 17 years.

“They give us the opportunity to have an impact on our clientele,” he says. “They give us the hours and manpower to impact patient lives positively. We practice real pharmacy.”

Fifteen years ago, when the state of Illinois authorized pharmacists to administer vaccines, Lawrence embraced the new ability and learned as much as he could about it. Costco supported his interest and empowered him to teach his colleagues.

“I studied as much as I could and spent about 40 hours on the phone with the Centers for Disease Control to get clarification and understanding,” says Lernor. “I was so well read in it that I ended up teaching some of my fellow pharmacists at Costco. It was a chance to have a major impact on the well-being of the patient, have a true connection, and I love it.”

To date, Lernor says he has administered nearly 20,000 vaccinations throughout his career, and enjoys educating patients, like new parents, about the importance of pertussis vaccinations for themselves, extended family members, and friends. 

“I’m really involved with vaccinations,” he says. “I like the tangible encounter with the patient, to be able to have that absolute, direct impact on their life and health long after they leave the pharmacy.”