Washington, DC—Pharmacy groups are advocating that federal health officials and Operation Warp Speed more effectively use their members to get Americans quickly vaccinated against COVID-19.

So far, vaccination goals are lagging far behind. “As more COVID-19 vaccines become available and more individuals become eligible to receive it, increased access points and optimal use of pharmacy teams will be critical to vaccinating more than 328 million Americans,” writes Scott Knoer, PharmD, APhA executive vice president and CEO. “We have got to kick this up a notch.”

Dr. Knoer points out in his blog that more than 376,000 pharmacists and student pharmacists have been trained to administer vaccines to patients across the lifespan, adding, “Their education and training have equipped them with the clinical and practical knowledge to vaccinate on a large scale. Pharmacists have been administering immunizations for more than a quarter of a century, and they know what it takes: who should or shouldn’t get a vaccine; appropriate storage, handling, and vaccine administration technique; important points to communicate to patients; how long patients should be monitored immediately post-vaccine and what to look out for; and how to handle vaccine reactions. They’re ready for this.”

He adds that more than 10,000 pharmacy technicians have completed training programs to use the new vaccine-administration authorities they’ve been granted under the PREP Act.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the CDC established the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program, which was designed to give pharmacies a more active role beyond long-term care once more vaccine supply becomes available.

While allocation and distribution for the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program was not to begin until Phase 2 of the vaccination schedule, many states already have expanded targeted populations. “The new administration and Congress must engage any willing, able, and ready pharmacies and pharmacy team members to administer authorized vaccines,” Dr. Knoer writes “We must also develop clear guidance and communications to providers and the public to help them more clearly identify who qualifies for Phase 1b and 1c vaccination. In addition, the system must get better at informing providers whether the vaccine will arrive at their sites, when it will arrive, and how much will arrive.”

Some pharmacies have been challenged, however, in getting any allocations of vaccine. National pharmacy chains and networks that represent independent pharmacies and regional chains are included in the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program; those represent nearly 70% of U.S. pharmacies. Vaccine allocations for the other 30% of pharmacies are supposed to come through state and local allocation channels, but the processes vary greatly and remain unclear in many cases.

Dr. Knoer asks the incoming Biden Administration to provide more simplified processes to enroll pharmacies in the state programs.

The APhA is not alone in calling for more pharmacist involvement. The association representing the nation’s chain drug stores also made suggestions on how to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations to Americans.

“Any allocation that’s out there right now that’s sitting on shelves can be transferred to a community pharmacy. A lot of that supply is out there, and it’s not being used,” the National Association of Chain Drug Stores wrote on its Twitter feed.

The National Community Pharmacists Association also said that working more closely with independent pharmacies could give the vaccine rollout a shot in the arm.

“Based on what we’re seeing, the vaccine rollout is going better in states where community pharmacists are key partners in the distribution,” NCPA President Brian Caswell said in a press release. “West Virginia and Arkansas are good examples, where state and local health departments are working closely with community pharmacists to reach more patients and satisfy the demand. They should be models for the rest of the country.”

The United States has more than 21,000 community pharmacies—a number of sites larger than CVS and Walgreens combined. Caswell points out that 79% of those are in communities with fewer than 50.000 people, which often are underserved by other healthcare providers.

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