CA policymakers must ensure continued access to care at local pharmacies

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OPINION – Californians relied upon pharmacies for COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and treatment throughout the pandemic. But with the end of the California State of Emergency Order related to COVID-19, many counties are facing new challenges and uncertainty. Assembly Bill 269 could solve this problem.

The pandemic proved Californians can easily access care at any of the state’s 5,600 pharmacies, more so than any other primary care facility. However, pharmacists are regulated by the state and with the ending of the Emergency Order, there is confusion whether they can continue to provide testing and medicines to patients without a prescription.

Without immediate action by state policymakers, many vulnerable Californians, including the elderly and people of color, could lose access to needed care, including testing and treatments at pharmacies.

Provisions in the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act will end pharmacists’ authority to prescribe this May, and patients will no longer be able to receive treatment from their pharmacist without a prescription. Without the emergency authorizations that allow pharmacists to carry out these services, the 7 million Californians who live in areas without adequate access to care will lose access to essential care.

Pharmacists are medical professionals who should be allowed to continue to treat patients.

In 2022, the California Department of Public Health launched a $158 million “Test to Treat” campaign to help increase access to COVID-19 treatment. Modeled after the national Test to Treat Program, California’s Test to Treat program aimed to provide high-risk patients who test positive with instant access to antiviral medications. Test to Treat is a roaring success: hundreds of patients from vulnerable populations who had contracted the Omicron and Delta variants of COVID-19 received treatment, most at their local pharmacies.

California still faces thousands of hospitalizations a day and even deaths from COVID-19. New medications have been proven to prevent hospitalizations, but Californians must be able to access these medications in time. We ask Governor Newsom and the California State Legislature to support AB 269 which would allow pharmacies to continue to test and treat for several conditions, including COVID treatments.

Monique Whitney is executive director of Pharmacists United for Truth and Transparency.


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