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The Pharmacist's Role in Eradicating COVID

The Pharmacist's Role in Eradicating COVID

As a community healthcare provider, you will have an important role in the eradication and management of COVID in the next six months. Even if you don’t think so.

By Stephanie Baumhover, PharmD, BCPS

It seems the word vaccine appears in at least half of every news story on COVID-19. And there are A LOT of news stories on COVID-19. The upcoming COVID vaccine has the potential to be the most watched vaccine in history. Early reports suggest a double dose vaccine might be needed in adults, with a pediatric vaccine lagging significantly behind the adult version. When it finally becomes available, will you be ready?

Pharmacists as Immunizer Providers

All 50 states allow pharmacists to administer vaccines. Community pharmacies offer the unique healthcare access point of a healthcare provider after hours which is critical to vaccine compliance rates nationwide. State laws vary as to the requirements, but in general a vaccine certificate is required in order to immunize. In addition, in August 2020, a new federal emergency authorization was passed that allows pharmacists in all 50 states to administer pediatric vaccines for routine vaccinations. Due to COVID, some children are not receiving their required childhood immunizations, which puts everyone at risk of additional morbidity and mortality from other infectious diseases. This authorization is to help improve and maintain childhood vaccines throughout the pandemic.

Designing COVID Vaccination Services

If you are already providing flu shots, you have some idea of the impact this increased traffic flow has on your productivity. The flu vaccine is seasonal and fairly predictable. It is one shot, with consistent questions and answers from patients. Providing flu vaccinations can be estimated to take approximately 5-10 minutes per customer from arrival to completion, depending on the overall volume of traffic. A pharmacy technician can perform screening and insurance validation with the pharmacist administering the vaccine.

The COVID vaccine could be a different workflow. It will most likely involve screening questions, multiple questions from patients, scheduling for a second shot, and potential wait after the vaccine is administered for acute reaction monitoring. A completely new vaccine with record-breaking development may require additional paperwork and monitoring in order to assess post-marketing safety. It may require a second shot with comprehensive patient tracking in order to avoid missteps for a double regimen. Plentiful questions and reassurances to patients is virtually guaranteed to be required from the pharmacist. 

The COVID vaccine is slightly different than the flu shot in that it will need to be given to everyone over 18 at the same time and with a time pressure to build community immunity. If the vaccines developed require a two-shot regimen there will inherently be an increased volume of traffic. 

Critical Implementation Steps

There are multiple considerations for implementing a COVID vaccine service. Safety for you and your staff, space to wait between patients, time for questions and answers, storage of enough supply for your expected volumes, and scheduling for a potential second vaccination. Will you provide reminder calls for the second shot? How will you record lot number and post-marketing surveillance for safety concerns? Can you spare a technician and pharmacist for the potential volumes of patients? 

Many news stories are estimating 25-30% of people may not receive the vaccine. Others suggest there will be waves of people asking to be vaccinated. The early vulnerable, front-line medical workers and first responders, then parents, urban dense populations and finally the converted who initially had shunned the vaccine. It is truly impossible to know how many might need and desire the vaccine. If you double or triple your flu vaccine volume do you have the staffing capabilities to accommodate this volume? Now is the time to develop an action plan and prepare for a vaccine within the next 3-6 months. 

Multiple pharmacy groups are advocating for pharmacies to have priority status in vaccine distribution for COVID-19. APhA offers an extensive immunization resource center. In addition the Immunization Action Coalition has a wealth of information on their website, including a section for Pharmacists and Immunization.  Finally, APhA offers an advanced, comprehensive  Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery website. These provide information on how to prepare for an immunization certificate program for any pharmacist. 

How to do More Work Without Hiring More People

Vaccinations can be a profit and loyalty building program for your pharmacy. The future COVID vaccine has been reported to be free of cost to all Americans. This has the potential to impact your workflow possibly temporarily, but most likely for a significant time. Early reports of the vaccine suggest it might be seasonal, similar to the flu. This may be a catalyst to consider workflow design, resource allocation and capacity to increase your services. An estimated 60% of independent pharmacies licensed to immunize also offer non-sterile compounding services which are notoriously time-consuming and labor-intensive. The AutoCompounder from Vitae Industries offers a time management solution.  Hands-free compounding provides increased capacity to offer both of these critical services to patients. The immunization work can only be done by a pharmacist. Where will this time come from?


Stephanie Baumhover, PharmD, BCPS is a board-certified clinical pharmacist and freelance medical writer. She has professional experience working in regulatory compliance, pediatrics, oncology, internal medicine, and infectious disease. Stephanie has over 20 years medical experience and over 10 years as a medical educator to health care professionals and patients.

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