Kathleen Jaeger, NACDS senior vice president of pharmacy care and patient advocacy, offers key insights on a recent NY law that allows pharmacists to administer a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available.
Drug Topics®: Before we get into the New York law and its implications specifically, can you talk a little bit about NACDS and what work the association has been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Jaeger: Absolutely. Well, at NACDS we represent thousands of stores across America, and actually we have stores in every community. Americans live within 5 miles of 1 of our stores. We have been working very hard and diligently throughout this pandemic to ensure that communities are actually able to stay healthy, and able to have the necessary treatments they need, whether we're talking about COVID directly or we're talking about chronic care for illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension.
We have been there every step of the way for our communities, and we couldn't thank our health care professionals and our teams enough. They've been such great heroes on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drug Topics®: So once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, the new law will allow pharmacists to administer vaccinations. What roles have pharmacists been playing amid the pandemic, and why is this law significant for pharmacists and their patients?
Jaeger: During the pandemic, pharmacies have been out there really trying to deliver and help facilitate preparedness on the testing side of COVID-19. They’re going out and basically building and creating these drive-thru testing opportunities. And again, it's really to help minimize the spread of the disease throughout communities and across the nation.
When a vaccine becomes available, and when it's approved by FDA or authorized by the FDA, it's going to help prevent the spread of disease. We're going to be moving from more reactive to more on the prevention side. And if we can actually ensure that we can get all those Americans vaccinated, we can really take down on a lot of the unfortunate comorbidity issues that happen, whether people have diabetes or hypertension and heart attacks because of the flu and because of COVID-19.
At the end of the day, this will be extremely important to foster and accelerate population health and community health.
Drug Topics®: It makes sense that New York would pass this law, since they became the state most acutely affected by COVID-19 and had the highest number of cases. Do you foresee other states taking up this law as well, or perhaps also a national approach that facilitates pharmacist-provided COVID-19 testing across the country?
Jaeger: Absolutely. So we actually are going to be doing both in a parallel fashion at the federal level as well as the state level, much like we did with COVID testing. We worked with the administration and United States Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) secretary to get the COVID-19 testing area guidance issued that actually really helped preempt a lot of the state issues and barriers that were needlessly there that were blocking testing from getting to the consumers and then the American people.
At the same time, we also worked at the very beginning with all the states, and so between the 2, we were able to really make a profound impact.
We're carrying that same strategy forward in the vaccination world right now. We are working and having discussions about the need for HHS and the White House to issue another guidance under the PREP Act, to basically ensure that all the needless barriers, like age restrictions and the like, can be removed so that we can pursue rapid acceleration of vaccinations to everyone in the communities.
And the same time, we've also been working with the states. We've been talking about preparing now - we want to actually ensure that we can actually have a clear and free runway now. It's an opportunity to actually remove all those unwarranted barriers, so that when the vaccination does come, we can really accelerate that.
We're working with the governors, and a lot of folks are moving in the right direction. Clearly all good things, but more work is necessary to make sure that our nation is well prepared.
Drug Topics®: The NACDS press release that announced this law also stressed the importance of keeping up to date with all vaccinations as the pandemic continues to affect Americans. How can pharmacists and pharmacy organizations make sure that their patients know to receive vaccinations when they also need to be social distancing, and those measures are still in place?
Jaeger: That's a really good question. So many adults, as you mentioned, do not receive all the recommended vaccinations. And what happens is that the CDC has a sub-working group that actually says when and who should get these vaccinations. It's made up of a body of medical experts, scientific public health experts, that provide these vaccinations to the population.
But, unfortunately, when you're looking at the adult population, it absolutely lags behind the Healthy People 2020 goals that we have for flu, for pneumonia, for tetanus and diphtheria, even herpes zoster, and others. When you're looking at those vaccination rates, only 45% of the adults actually got their flu vaccine. That really needs to increase. When you look at pneumonia, you're talking about only less than 25% actually got their vaccinations for ages like 19 to 20. And then when we get into the older population, it gets a little higher, but again, more work is needed there to make sure that we educate the population. We also make sure that these are readily available.
Our pharmacies stand ready across the country to provide these vaccinations. CDC just issued a guidance just a few weeks ago allowing vaccinations to now recommence. The COVID-19 CDC had put a stop order moratorium on vaccinations across the nation because of social distancing and trying to mitigate the spread of the disease. But now they realize that with social distancing, with PPE, there's really a need to move back into these traditional vaccination schedules and making sure that everyone gets their vaccinations.
So I think that at the end of the day, pharmacies are readily accessible. They're in everyone's communities as I mentioned, you don't have to go to the hospital or clinic to get there. We still see across the country a fear of consumers going to their hospitals and their clinics and their physician's office, but they still feel very comfortable coming to our pharmacies. So it's absolutely unequivocal that we continue to get this education out there completely.
Drug Topics®: Thank you so much for joining me today.
Jaeger: Oh, it was my pleasure. Thank you so much.