Pharmacy experts discuss pharmacists' expanding role as vaccinators

Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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With the upcoming flu season this fall likely to collide with a second wave of COVID-19, and vaccinations suspended amid the pandemic, pharmacists, who have been embracing their role as vaccinators, will undoubtedly have a role in increasing vaccinations rates and preventing disease.

In a Drug Store News webinar held Monday, John Beckner, senior director of strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association; Mitchel Rothholz, chief strategy officer for the American Pharmacists Association; and Tasha Polster, Walgreens vice president of pharmacy quality, compliance and patient safety, highlighted pharmacy's role in delivering vaccinations. The panelists also outlined the technology and resources empowering pharmacists as vaccinators, plus COVID-19 precautionary measures to ensure patients and staff are safe.

The full webinar, sponsored by VaxServe, can be watched on-demand here.

On the subject of retail pharmacy’s role delivering vaccines now and in the future, Beckner said that over the years pharmacists’ role as vaccinators has become even more important, but especially with the advent of COVID-19, the importance of pharmacists cannot be overstated.

“It’s becoming even more important for pharmacists to be able to administer all ACIP-recommended vaccines. There are some barriers from a legislation and regulatory standpoint at the state level," Beckner said. "It’s going to become more important for barriers to be eliminated. With the coming of the new COVID vaccine, there will be a lot of uncertainty and questions, and pharmacists’ role as an educator of vaccines will take on even greater importance."

Rothholz said that pharmacists are essential providers willing and able to administer ACIP-recommended vaccines and FDA approved and authorized vaccines. He stressed that they also are able to serve the public health needs of the communities in which they practice.

"We provide public health every day. We are part of that public health infrastructure. Through COVID it’s become more evident of the important role pharmacists play in helping communities stay healthy," Rothholz said. "We have the authority to provide most immunizations. We need to overcome barriers and make sure we are working to make sure we are part of the fabric and infrastructure in our communities of addressing public health needs."

Polster concurred, stating that community pharmacy has never been more critical than during this time.

"More than 28,000 Walgreens’ pharmacists are trained and certified to provide immunizations, and we provide COVID testing at many of our sites. Walgreens has administered more than 60 million vaccines since 2010. It is going to be even more critical for us to be available at all times for our patients to come in and help during this pandemic. There is no way that our country will heal without community pharmacy,” she said.

Tasha envisions that flu, pneumonia, and the second wave of COVID-19 will converge and that it will be important for pharmacists to ensure that patients are educated on the benefits of a vaccine and early vaccinations as soon as possible to help patients care for themselves and their loved ones and to keep the spread of infection down.  

Polster noted that vaccine makers, as well as retailers, are ready for what's to come. "At this time, the flu manufacturers are not indicating that there will be any product shortage or any delays," she said. "Getting patients out as soon as possible to get their vaccines for flu and pneumonia if they are eligible will be important to keeping our communities healthy."