The National Association of Chain Drug Stores held a media briefing on Friday to discuss the essential role of pharmacies and pharmacists in administering COVID-19 vaccines following the Biden administration’s Feb. 2 initial opening of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination – in which 21 retailers and independent pharmacy networks will help administer COVID-19 vaccines by coordinating directly with the federal government.
NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson noted that on Tuesday, Jeff Zients, coordinator of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team, described the importance of the 40,000 pharmacies and their reach with 5 miles of 90% of Americans, as a very real illustration of the scale that can and ultimately can be achieved via retail pharmacies. Anderson noted that while pharmacists are fully capable of delivering 100 million vaccinations in a month, the supply of vaccines remains the rates limiting factor in the effort.
"This week’s development is a very positive and extremely welcome step in accelerating the delivery of vaccines," Anderson said. "Pharmacies across America are prepared and have experience to turn vaccination doses into vaccination appointments that will continue to ramp up as the program is expanded and as vaccine supplies become available. There is great media and public interest in how this program will play out," Anderson said.
Kathleen Jaeger, NACDS senior vice president of pharmacy care and patient advocacy, noted that over the course of the federal pharmacy partnership, the program would be rolled out incrementally based on the availability of vaccines. In this initial phase, the supply will be distributed among 6,500 retail pharmacy locations. Importantly, Jaeger noted that because this program allocates doses separately from each state's allocation, there is potential for pharmacies to be partners to both the federal government and the states.
"CDC and the federal government are going to provide a separate allocation," she said. "This program is meant to be synergistic with what's going in the states and it utilizes the expertise and trust of community pharmacies in our neighborhood."
Ultimately, the need to vaccinate patients against COVID-19 offers a critical area for partnership with the industry. "As we go forward, it’s important to realize we have three programs ongoing now where pharmacies can participate: the federal pharmacy partnership program, the partnership with the state as they are getting allocations, and pharmacies designated as pharmacy vaccine locations," she said. "The states can use the Federal Pharmacy Transfer program. They can use the allocations they have and utilize other pharmacies that have sent in their plan."
Christie Boutte, NACDS senior vice president, state strategic affairs and advocacy, who was also on hand at the briefing, said that in underserved and rural areas, pharmacists also have the ability to take vaccines directly to individuals who don’t have access to transportation, by means of mobile vaccine clinics, pop us sites, schools, and parking lots.
"This is equally more important in Black and brown communities where hesitancy is a big issued coupled with existing inequities and mistrust in the healthcare system," she said. "There’s more value in reassuring those who are reluctant that they can receive the vaccine, healthcare and other services from a provider they know and trust."
Boutte said that in these underserved areas pharmacists are highly trained, trusted and accessible and are most often the point of contact for patients.
"Patients tend to visit pharmacists more times than other providers," she said. "Through these trusted relations with patients, pharmacists can give patients information based on their medical history, which will allow patients to have more well-informed decisions, and educate patients in a manner to overcome trust and hesitancy issues and to have more trust in the healthcare system. Patients trust pharmacists to give them the right information and guide them with other medications and therapies. Pharmacists are well equipped to do so with the vaccine," she said.
Finally Boutte added, "Pharmacists are certain to build confidence in patients and trust and will help bridge the gap on COVID vaccine administration as well as provide readily accessible care."