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NACDS, HPP report highlights role pharmacies play during health emergencies

The third in a series of NACDS reports shows how valuable experiences and lessons learned during the COVID pandemic response can help inform policy decisions and future pandemic planning and preparedness.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores and Health Preparedness Partners have released a report entitled – “Community Retail Pharmacies’ Experience During the COVID-19 Response: Successes and Lessons Learned to Date.”

This report centers on the key lessons learned from local pharmacies providing COVID vaccinations and testing as well as the historic and pivotal role pharmacies continue to play in meeting health and wellness needs during public health emergencies and every day.

The new report follows NACDS’ recent release of two additional papers that detail the value of better leveraging the clinical expertise of pharmacies – as demonstrated during the COVID response – and which offer actionable blueprints and legislative solutions that will help the nation achieve better health for all.

[Read more: NACDS report highlights role local pharmacies, pharmacists play in patient-centered services]

As part of the new report, NACDS, in collaboration with HPP, queried its members using a web-based survey and conducted a 90-minute virtual discussion forum to collect members’ input on the successes and challenges of pharmacy COVID vaccination programs; the successes and challenges of pharmacy COVID testing programs; next steps for providing additional COVID vaccination doses and boosters, vaccinating children and the co-administration of COVID and influenza vaccines; and interim lessons learned that can translate into policy changes.

Critically, these key findings from NACDS member respondents and forum participants can help inform public strategies for near-term increased demand for COVID vaccinations/boosters, COVID testing, COVID oral therapeutics (once authorized) and future pandemic planning. They also can be leveraged for use after the public health emergency diminishes to continue to provide essential health services – particularly to underserved populations.

Key successes identified by NACDS member pharmacies in providing COVID vaccinations and COVID testing include:

  • Serving existing and new patients, including high-risk and underserved populations by collaborating with community and faith-based leaders, hosting or participating in “pop-up” clinics and offering vaccinations and testing services on-site at established and convenient pharmacy locations.
  • Creating and enhancing partnerships with public health entities at the state and local level and with laboratories by offering vaccinations and testing.
  • Expanding the role of pharmacies and staff during a pandemic or public health emergency – including new roles and responsibilities for pharmacy technicians and pharmacy interns. The expanded role of pharmacies – enabled by the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act declaration amendments and other key federal actions during the pandemic – helped improve patients’ equitable access to COVID testing and vaccinations.
  • Increasing the visibility of the role of pharmacies and pharmacists, particularly in addressing COVID and in offering healthcare services that serve to detect, control and mange acute and chronic conditions.
  • Leveraging prior vaccination experience, which has contributed to success during the current pandemic when designing COVID vaccination programs. For a brief three-month period during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic response, the federal government leveraged the strength of 10 of the largest chain pharmacies in America to distribute 5.5 million doses of federally purchased pandemic vaccine to more than 10,700 retail stores nationwide.
  • Promoting opportunities to make progress with needed innovations. The urgency and complexity of the COVID response caused pharmacies to accelerate internal improvements in IT (Information Technology) systems and processes, as well as innovations in workflow.
  • Receiving reimbursement for vaccine administration – which helped enable pharmacies to continue to provide vaccination services throughout the pandemic. Timely billing and reimbursement for vaccination administration is a critical element of this process, especially in sustaining a long emergency vaccination response.

Of note, since December 2020, pharmacies have administered more than 163 million doses of the COVID vaccine, and the latest data from the Government Accountability Office, as of mid-July 2021, indicate that 92% of all vaccine was being distributed through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Pharmacies’ actual vaccination totals are even higher given that, in addition to shots provided through the FRPP, pharmacies also are providing shots through state programs.

Additionally, thousands of pharmacies have also offered COVID testing services throughout the pandemic, with the Biden Administration recently announcing plans to ramp up to 20,000 pharmacies within the federal Community-Based Testing Sites Program.

[Read more: NACDS, Johns Hopkins report: Pharmacies play a vital role in achieving health equity 

“The successes from these efforts demonstrate that pharmacies and their staff [teams] can play a vital healthcare delivery role during a public health crisis and could be further leveraged in normal times to improve healthcare access and strengthen community healthcare infrastructure nationwide,” the report noted.

Based on the extensive information gathered through the survey and forum discussions – and to help ensure that critical pharmacy services remain in place and can be expanded upon to enhance access to care after the COVID pandemic subsides – the report laid out the following policy recommendations:

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should permanently expand pharmacy scope of practice across all states to improve access to key care interventions, at a minimum, vaccinations, point of care testing, and access to therapeutics, for patients of all ages.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should permanently implement a payment pathway in Medicare Part B for clinical care delivered by pharmacists to support more seamless public access to care, rather than the implementation of ad-hoc workarounds, as observed during the pandemic, which often led to inadequacies and inefficiencies.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should develop a centralized data reporting mechanism for vaccine administration during a public health emergency to reduce reporting burden during a long-duration outbreak like COVID-19.
  • CDC and states/jurisdictions should harmonize vaccine eligibility so pharmacies can apply the same eligibility protocols nationwide.
  • HHS should utilize a centralized system so vaccine providers can easily determine patient insurance status.”

In October, NACDS released its first report in the series — which focuses on pharmacies’ success before and during the COVID pandemic in confronting health inequities and disparities, and issued recommendations for further progress in this critical area.

In November, NACDS released its second report — which examines how integrating pharmacies and pharmacists into value-based programs and alternative payment models will help support the Biden Administration’s refreshed vision for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

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