If the demand for COVID-19 testing seems strong, just wait to see the demand for a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Arkansans will want quick access to a shot that could help prevent worry, serious illness and even death for them and their loved ones, and they deserve that access.
State authorities should plan now, and they should rely on the most accessible healthcare professionals: pharmacists.
It would not be the first time. During the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, the public health community turned – actually rushed – to pharmacists for vaccination help. In fact, it was not until 2009 that pharmacists were able to give the flu vaccine in all 50 states. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 32% of all adult flu vaccines across the country were provided in pharmacies in 2018.
Since the sea change in 2009, pharmacists’ vaccination authority has expanded. Right now, under state law, pharmacists can provide any vaccine to Arkansans seven years old and above – from the flu and beyond. They can only do so if they enter into an arrangement with a physician.
However, the current crisis provides good reason to modernize this policy. Pharmacists should be able to give a COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, without a physician’s order. No diagnosis is necessary to determine whether a patient needs a vaccine. When a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and authorized, there should be no delay in deploying it.
Pharmacists should be empowered to fulfill the important roles for which they are prepared and ideally positioned. With all vaccinations reported to the state’s registry, this will take place with healthcare professionals “on the same page” in a patient’s care.
Indeed, pharmacists are extremely accessible. They also provide high-quality care that is trusted by Arkansans, and they are extremely well educated. Today, pharmacists graduate with a doctor of pharmacy degree.
In a poll conducted by Morning Consult and commissioned by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, between March 26 and April 2, 83% of Arkansas voters said pharmacies are easy to access – the most accessible healthcare destination tested.
Seventy-eight percent (78%) said pharmacists should be allowed to provide a vaccine or other medication to protect against COVID-19, when developed. Similarly, 75% said pharmacists should be allowed to provide tests for COVID-19.
Interestingly, Arkansas has done well during this public health crisis in adapting pharmacy-related policies, removing many barriers that could stand in the way of patient care.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the authorities have taken important steps to help pharmacies and pharmacists safeguard customers and teams, keep their stores open, assist patients when medications are in short supply, and deliver prescription drugs in ways that are consistent with social distancing.
Now, it is critically important that the state take action to allow pharmacists to vaccinate Arkansans as soon as that is possible without needless access barriers – such as a physician’s order. Now is the time to prepare fully so Arkansans can benefit from COVID-19 protections as soon as they are available.
Editor’s note: Steven C. Anderson, IOM, CAE, is the President and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which represents traditional drug stores, supermarkets and mass merchants with pharmacies. The opinions expressed are those of the author.