Healthcare worker putting a bandaid on patient's arm.

NACDS, NACCHO discuss pharmacy partnerships with health departments for COVID-19 vaccines

Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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How are pharmacies and local health departments collaborating to ensure efficient and equitable COVID-19 vaccination? That was the focus of a webinar hosted Thursday by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Association of County and City Health Officials. 

The webinar, “COVID-19 Vaccination Stories from the Field: Local Health Department & Pharmacy Partnerships," highlighted the critical role pharmacies continue to play in the nation’s pandemic response and recovery efforts. Oscar Alleyne, NACCHO chief of programs and services said that partnerships with pharmacies offer a way to improve community access for when it comes to administering cities' and counties' vaccine allocations.

"Ultimately, our role here is around partnerships and coordination especially in this critical moment in time and opportunity," he said. "NACCHO continues to support and advocate that local health departments will have this ability around vaccine allocations within their communities and to encourage partnerships with critical partners such as pharmacies.”

Angela Guo, pharmacy partnership team lead for the CDC’s vaccine task force provided an overview of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, noting that the federal government has partnered with 21 national pharmacies chains and independent pharmacy networks to help administer COVID vaccines in communities across the United States. “The program will roll out incrementally," she said, adding, “It is designed to engage the system in a way to ensure that infrastructure is ready for large-scale administration when vaccine supply increases."

Guo said that more than 40,000 pharmacies locations nationwide will be able to provide vaccines through this program. "Currently, we are at 7,000 pharmacies locations nationwide who are receiving vaccines through this program.”

Guo continued, “We’ve been working with jurisdictions to expand their partners in terms of expanding the number of pharmacy partners in that jurisdiction that are able to receive federal allocated vaccine. We will continue to do so as supply grows working closely to make sure we are coordinating with public health as well."

Christie Boutte, NACDS senior vice president of reimbursement, innovation and advocacy pointed out that as of earlier this week more than 60 million Americans have been vaccinated. “Now more ever, all qualified healthcare members, including community pharmacies should be leveraged to ensure that shots get into the arms of the millions of Americans in need. Community pharmacies across the nation stand ready to respond to the consistently shifting pandemic," she said. 

Boutte emphasized that there are more than 60,000 conveniently located pharmacies that offer extended hours during the week and weekend for patients to receive healthcare services and immunizations. "Pharmacies are prepared and have experience with high volume operations to put shots into arms. Pharmacists have a long and successful track record of providing different vaccine services to the public, with data showing that one out of three adults receive flu vaccines from pharmacies."

Boutte went on to say that the Federal government has recognized the impact of leveraging pharmacies within communities and have issued guidance and advisory opinions authorizing pharmacists to do COVID testing, provide childhood vaccines and have also granted authority to pharmacy techs and interns to provide testing and vaccines.

"As we continue to navigate through the pandemic, it’s extremely important to note that pharmacies and public health collaborative efforts are not new, and have been vital in protecting Americans and the nation.”

Barbara Banks‐Wiggins, executive director, Prince George’s Healthcare Alliance said that the pharmacy patient relationship is very critical at this time to help address vaccine hesitancy and vaccine administration.

“What we hear from family, clients, and patients in the community is that our community has a relationship with their pharmacy. It’s a trusting relationship," Banks-Wiggins said. "Patients feel pharmacists will be honest with them. They see their pharmacist consistently while picking up refills. It’s an area they feel comfortable going into. There’s a strong sense of community. I am confident that the comfortable place to get a vaccine is in our pharmacies. I’m glad we’re building this wonderful relationship and partnership with NACDS in Prince George’s county.”

Finally, Alison Mendoza-Walters, a health planner at Prince George’s County Department of Health discussed the department's focus on health literacy, pointing out that in October 2020 this group talked about flu season, rationalizing that people who don’t like getting flu vaccine, won’t like getting a COVID vaccine.

“We forced an ad hoc vaccine working group. In October, we promoted the flu vaccine to help lay the foundation for what we thought was a forthcoming COVID vaccine," she said. "Shortly after, the first COVID vaccine was approved in December. We shifted our flu vaccine effort to COVID. Now we are focusing on communication efforts and updates. The situation is changing very quickly. It’s important to have a forum where hospitals, pharmacy, healthcare providers, and social service organizations in the community can come for updates.”