Cardinal Health is playing a pivotal role in getting the COVID-19 vaccine to communities via its participation in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. Victor Crawford, pharmaceutical segment CEO at Cardinal Health, spoke to Drug Store News about how the company is helping its customers get shots in patients’ arms in the communities they serve.
Drug Store News: How is Cardinal Health helping its independent pharmacy partners bring COVID-19 vaccines to their communities?
Victor Crawford: We’ve seen our retail independent pharmacy partners committed more now than ever as they work to administer COVID-19 vaccines. To support our customers and the greater need for vaccine distribution, we have proudly partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This partnership provides the opportunity for eligible pharmacy customers to enroll in the Cardinal Health COVID-19 Vaccination Network, through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, to enable access to COVID-19 vaccines once they become available.
DSN: Tell us about the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination.
VC: The CDC asked Pharmacy Services Administrative Organizations and other participants across the pharmaceutical industry to partner with them to enable eligible pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccines. Cardinal Health serves as an administrator of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, which enables our enrolled pharmacy customers access to COVID-19 vaccines and to become COVID-19 immunizers. An administrator is required to collect information from pharmacies, train pharmacies and collect vaccine orders, as well as a number of other administrative responsibilities for the CDC.
DSN: How is Cardinal Health playing a role in the rollout of this vaccination program?
VC: The distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines will be the most complex and massive public health effort in U.S. history. Our capabilities as one of the largest pharmaceutical distributors in America; a longtime, trusted contracting relationship with the U.S. government; 40 years’ experience in pharmaceutical distribution; and our extensive reach with partners has put us in a natural position to do our part and support the vaccine effort.
As a result, we have been able to successfully contract with the CDC as a network administrator to enable more than 3,500 retail independent, small chains and long-term care pharmacy customers to participate in the vaccine effort. We also continue to partner with the CDC by enrolling our customers in their program and by aggregating orders for future vaccine product.
Some other key reasons we have been able to join in the vaccine effort include our trusted relationships with customers, including major retail pharmacy chains, such as CVS and Kroger; the majority of the independent long-term care pharmacies that serve older Americans in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities; and strong ties in rural, minority and hard-to-reach communities, including tribal areas, via our service to the largest share of retail independent pharmacies of any distributor and a majority of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
DSN: Tell us about the roadblocks and opportunities for retail pharmacies.
VC: COVID-19 vaccine quantities have been limited across the nation. In addition, the COVID-19 vaccines have different storage and handling requirements and restrictions. Pharmacies are being tasked with numerous reporting requirements to both state governments and the federal government. Our PSAO is working to alleviate as much of the administrative burden as possible so that our retail independent pharmacy customers can use their time to administer vaccines to their patients.
DSN: What do you suggest pharmacies do to maximize this rollout?
VC: The fact that the U.S. federal government has put its trust in retail independent pharmacies across the country is a testament to the caliber of our customers and partners. It has been a privilege to work alongside them as we all work to vaccinate our nation and ultimately get back to a semblance of normalcy and herd immunity.
In addition to helping patients access the vaccine, pharmacies can leverage their capabilities (and have) by offering COVID-19 testing, increasing their medication delivery capabilities and engaging in telehealth capabilities.
The pandemic has reinforced the importance of pharmacists as a critical member of the healthcare team. We strongly believe that as pharmacists ’ scope of practice and provider status expands, we will see pharmacists increasing their roles as providers for their patients.