Op-Ed: Pharmacists on the frontlines

Published 12:48 am Thursday, August 6, 2020

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Innocent Mwesiga

When a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available, there will be a race to ensure it is widely administered and Americans are protected. Whether that happens in six or 18 months from now, one way we can ensure rapid adoption of the vaccine is by ensuring that pharmacists like me are equipped and authorized to administer it.

With many America’s hospitals and clinics devoted to caring for Covid-19 patients, the role pharmacies play on the frontlines of public health has become increasingly vital. Since nine out of 10 Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy, we can swiftly help ensure widespread adoption of the vaccine.

As a community pharmacist, my ability to help protect the population is built on trust and relationships. I can reach a large population of busy adults on a regular basis as people frequently stop to pick up medications or other necessities. In a recent study, when asked which services their pharmacy could add to make health care more convenient, 29% of older adults cited access to all vaccines.

Adult vaccination rates across the United States remain lower than what is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and well below the goal of ‘Healthy People 2020’ of 90 percent.

Pharmacies can help expand access and offer an additional safe, convenient place for adults to get vaccinated.

Pharmacists are trained and equipped to deliver vaccines, and they can be vital to flattening the curve of pandemics. A Johns Hopkins University study found that during the H1N1 pandemic, pharmacists were critical to expanding access to the vaccine, thus helping stop the spread of the disease.

All 50 states allow pharmacists to vaccinate for the flu, but with other vaccines availability at pharmacies varies widely state by state.

Aside from the eventual Covid-19 vaccine, there are several vaccines that adults 19 years and older need to have in order to protect themselves and others from potentially life-threatening illnesses.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many of my patients were anxious to take any steps they could to protect them from the virus. Many came in for the pneumonia vaccine, which we regularly administer. They brought their elderly family members in search of answers – because of the relationships we have built over time, pharmacists are trusted partners in the system of care.

Being able to go to a pharmacy without a prescription and get these vaccines will make it easier on adults, and likely lead to increased rates of vaccination.

Expanded access to vaccines saves lives. As we look at the post-pandemic world and try to prevent the next outbreak, it is prudent to also look at what regulations may need to change to help facilitate greater access for patients.

In Texas, one such measure would be to change statute to allow pharmacists to vaccinate children over 14 and adults without being required to have an individual prescription from a physician or be under a physician’s order.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services authorized pharmacists to order and administer Covid-19 tests, enabling us to step up and help address the pandemic.

Having easy access to critical vaccinations makes it more likely that the entire population is safeguarded against vaccine-preventable diseases. It only makes sense for pharmacists to be able to administer routine vaccine shots like they currently do with flu shots.

We have been rightly working to “flattening the curve” to ensure we don’t overwhelm our hospital systems with Covid-19 cases. Working now to give pharmacists greater access to deliver vaccines will allow us to stay ahead of the curve, and ready to defeat Covid-19.

Our patients are hungry for a Covid-19 vaccine. We want to be prepared to deliver it to them.

Pharm. D. Innocent Mwesiga is a pharmacist in College Station, Texas. This piece was originally published in the Bryan-College Station Eagle.