Pharmacies Must Prepare for a COVID-19 Vaccine

July 16, 2020

Despite some anticipated hesitancy, demand for the novel coronavirus vaccine will be significant when it becomes available.

Although community pharmacies are the ideal locations to provide a vaccine for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) after it is developed, they must overcome barriers that include state regulations and patient objections. One recent survey found that only 3 in 4 Americans would choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

"Vaccine hesitancy is a major barrier to vaccine uptake and the achievement of herd immunity, which is required to protect the most vulnerable populations,” wrote the authors of a recent JAMA Viewpoint article. “Given that certain individuals will be ineligible for COVID-19 vaccination because of age, immunocompromised status, and other preexisting medical conditions, a vaccine refusal rate greater than 10% could significantly impede attainment of this goal.”

However, experts with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) believe demand for the COVID-19 vaccine will be significant and that pharmacies should prepare now to administer it. “We are operating under the assumption that the demand for a COVID-19 vaccine will be high, when available,” said Kathleen Jaeger, RPh, senior vice president of pharmacy care and patient advocacy for NACDS. NACDS’ recent poll conducted by Morning Consult found that 86% of Americans say pharmacists should be allowed to provide a COVID-19 vaccine. “This, combined with the tremendous trust that patients place in pharmacists, suggests that Americans will continue to look to these highly educated health professionals for reliable information,” Jaeger said.

Pharmacists are in a “great position” to administer the vaccine, according to John Beckner, RPh, senior director of strategic initiatives at NCPA. “If you want to mass-immunize the population, you want to use pharmacists,” he told Drug Topics®. It is not too early to begin educating patients about the vaccine, which practitioners can do now while providing other routine vaccinations, Beckner said.

However, Beckner acknowledged that some patients will have concerns. “Like anything new, there is probably going to be some pushback. There are going to be antivaxxers, and there are always going to be folks thinking they can get the flu from the vaccine, for example. It is really important to educate them,” Beckner said.

Community pharmacies need to work with their state associations, who will partner with local and state health departments, to break down barriers to pharmacists’ vaccinations in certain states—and to communicate that they are set up to administer the new vaccine. Some states have age restrictions on pharmacists who can administer vaccines. “NCPA has been pushing for pharmacists to administer all American Council on Immunization Practices–approved vaccines,” Beckner added.

NACDS is advocating for the federal and state governments to take “swift action” to ensure the population can rely on pharmacies and pharmacists for the COVID-19 vaccine, Jaeger said. The organization has engaged with the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed to make the case for pharmacy’s role, based in large part on the industry’s proven track record during the H1N1 pandemic.

download issueDownload Issue : Drug Topics July 2020