NACDS suggests federal policies to empower pharmacies during COVID-19 outbreak

Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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Immediate federal policymaking would empower pharmacies and pharmacists to help enhance the nation’s COVID-19 response right now, and as vaccines and other resources are developed and deployed. That was the message sent in a letter to the U.S. Congressional leadership and to the Administration by National Association of Chain Drug Stores president and CEO Steve Anderson.

“As Congress and the Administration consider new policies and initiatives to combat the threat of COVID-19, I am writing to urge you to take steps immediately to further optimize the critical role pharmacy plays in helping to respond to this national emergency,” Anderson wrote.

NACDS’ recommendations for necessary policy changes relate to pharmacy services and to pharmacy staffing, credentialing, operation and workflow.

In anticipation of a COVID-19 vaccine, NACDS urged taking action now to assure pharmacists can make it available quickly and efficiently. NACDS also urged provider status for pharmacists to empower them to deliver patient services related to COVID-19 and to other illnesses to help relieve pressures on other providers. Similarly, enhancing pharmacists’ testing authority to initiate treatment for flu, strep and minor ailments, and allowing pharmacists to conduct therapeutic interchange and substitution amid drug shortages, would improve access and relieve burdens on the national healthcare system.

NACDS’ operational recommendations relate to diverse topics to ensure the public’s access to medications including: temporary operations in areas not designated by permit; authorization of central fill operations; allowing pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to operate across state lines; providing relief from proof-of-delivery requirements to maintain social distancing during delivery; allowing remote prescription verification by licensed pharmacies; the ability to dispense early refills and emergency refills for maintenance medications; enabling telepharmacy; and including community pharmacists in the distribution of personal protective equipment.

“Pharmacies can provide additional services and resources that can be utilized to further strengthen national emergency response capabilities as a trusted healthcare provider which provides unparalleled access to those populations that need assistance the most,” Anderson wrote.

Public policy changes necessary to maximize the role of pharmacies and pharmacists in emergency situations – and in daily health and wellness – has been the subject of much discussion in anticipation of, and response to, the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Ali Khan, a retired assistant surgeon general who currently serves as dean and professor of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health, in early February penned an op-ed in the Omaha World-Herald on this topic. This week, Bradley Blakeman, a former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush, wrote similarly in The Hill. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security previously published a white paper containing recommendations that are highly consistent with those being discussed presently.

Click here to access the NACDS web portal to provide NACDS members with convenient access to COVID-19 information and resources.