January 12, 2021
By Naomi Lopez
COVID-19 vaccines have finally been approved, but they are being administered at a frustratingly sluggish pace—at a time when Americans need them more than ever. But a solution to this problem may be found at your local pharmacy.
In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, points to private industry as the key to speeding up the administration of COVID-19 vaccines:
“Standing up vaccination sites and encouraging people to go get the shot is expensive and takes time. The best option may be to rely more on private industry. National pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens have an agreement with the federal government to provide vaccines to long-term care facilities. The government should expand this program to help vaccinate all Americans.”
Fortunately, pharmacies are already part of the vaccine distribution plans in many states, with pharmacists being freed up to administer vaccines. In August 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services allowed state-licensed pharmacists and pharmacy interns, with requirements, to administer “any vaccine that the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends to persons ages three through 18 according to ACIP’s standard immunization schedule.”
This is part of a growing trend during the COVID-19 pandemic to let more medical professionals practice at the top of their training and help more patients in need. State “scope of practice” laws dictate how doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare practitioners may care for and treat patients. These laws vary widely from state to state, and they often needlessly prevent healthcare professionals from helping patients, even if they are trained and competent to do so. But in the midst of this healthcare emergency, many governors have taken steps to temporarily expand healthcare professionals’ scope of practice, including allowing pharmacists to administer COVID testing and routine vaccinations and allowing healthcare practitioners who are licensed in another state to provide in-person and telehealth services to patients in their states.
But states, which have the legal authority over scope of practice, should go a step further and evaluate whether there are opportunities to permanently expand pharmacist scope of practice in order to further facilitate vaccines, both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19. For example, in many states, pharmacist scope of practice is limited to vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given the declines in vaccination rates and the long-term threat that COVID-19 poses, as well the potential for future pandemic threats, lawmakers should consider making pharmacists’ ability to vaccinate permanent and based on FDA approval.
Medical professionals should be allowed to practice at the top of their education and training all the time—not just during emergencies. COVID-19 has driven many states to empower more medical professionals to help more patients—but if it’s good for a pandemic, it should be good for all times.
Naomi Lopez is the Director of Healthcare Policy at the Goldwater Institute.