Law should allow pharmacists to administer vaccines

An image of a vaccination. (Photo: KPG_Payless, via Shutterstock)

Efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic in California spurred unprecedented coordination across all levels of government, the health care delivery system, and the private sector.

Critically, Gov. Gavin Newsom took executive action that empowered California’s 47,000 pharmacists to combat COVID-19 by granting them authority to order and administer COVID-19 tests.

Now, in anticipation of a forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine, lawmakers in California must extend the authority of pharmacists to administer all vaccines approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

To ensure universal vaccination against COVID-19 can be achieved as quickly as possible, pharmacists must be able to administer any vaccine as soon as it is FDA-approved.

Currently, pharmacists in California cannot administer a vaccine approved by the FDA until that vaccine has been recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). This means that under current law, if the FDA approves a vaccine to treat COVID-19, pharmacists will not be able to administer it until ACIP issues a recommendation, a process that could take months.

At the core of this problem is the delay between a vaccine’s approval by the FDA and ACIP issuing a recommendation. The ACIP approval process is appropriately thorough and can be lengthy, taking six months or more. As soon as a COVID-19 vaccine is approved, physicians’ offices will be overwhelmed, and a delay in pharmacist authority to administer the vaccine would result in a critical loss of capacity for the health care system.

To ensure universal vaccination against COVID-19 can be achieved as quickly as possible, pharmacists must be able to administer any vaccine as soon as it is approved by the FDA.

Pharmacists are trusted community members who play an important role in delivering care to their patients.

In California, 91 percent of all residents live within five miles of a pharmacy. Granting pharmacists the authority to administer all FDA approved vaccines, including one for COVID-19, would expand the health care system’s vaccination capacity, control the influx of patients seeking a COVID-19 immunization in doctors’ offices, and help alleviate the burden on an already taxed  health care system.

To date, pharmacists have already played a central role in California’s COVID-19 response. In addition to ensuring that their communities could access critical care and medications during the height of the pandemic, pharmacists were also key to expanding testing capacity in the Golden State and reaching Governor Newsom’s goal of administering up to 60,000 tests per day.

Moreover, pharmacists have a proven record of success in past nationwide immunization efforts. In 2010 expanding their authority to administer vaccines greatly expanded the health care system’s capacity to administer the H1N1 vaccine.

Achieving universal COVID-19 immunization will require a cohesive, multi-faceted vaccination strategy across the state, and expanded pharmacist authority in key to these efforts. Lawmakers in California must explore policy solutions that would expand pharmacist authority to initiate and administer all FDA approved vaccines, including a potential COVID-19 vaccine. In a time when quick and coordinated responses have proven to be a matter of life and death, it’s critical that there be no delay in administering a future COVID-19 vaccine.

Editor’s Note: Lawrence Bottorff — MBA, BSN, RN — is executive director of the Infectious Disease Association of California.

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