As states work to ensure equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, gaps remain in providing it to the nation’s most vulnerable. Using providers such as pharmacists can open access to vaccines, especially for those living in rural and underserved areas.
Nearly all Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, making pharmacists one of the most accessible providers for patients within the health care system. Pharmacies are the second most common flu vaccination site, and have high patient volumes and higher patient-to-provider ratios than other vaccine providers. As a result, pharmacists are well positioned to improve immunization rates for vaccine-preventable diseases, including COVID-19.
Many states use pharmacists as educators, facilitators and administrators of the COVID-19 vaccine to increase its availability and accessibility across the U.S.
Pharmacist Vaccination Authority
State pharmacy practice acts regulate whether pharmacists can order and administer vaccinations; which vaccines can be administered; who must order the vaccine; and patient characteristics (such as age) that make them eligible to receive vaccinations from pharmacists. For example, California allows pharmacists who meet certain training requirements to independently initiate and administer vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for patients over 3 years old. Kansas permits a pharmacist, or a pharmacy intern under the direct supervision of a pharmacist, to administer the flu vaccine to anyone 6 or older, or any vaccine to individuals over 12. The law also requires reporting the vaccine to the patient’s primary care provider or a licensed medical professional.
Pharmacists Administering COVID-19 Vaccinations
Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary issued a declaration in August 2020 extending liability protections to pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy interns who order and administer the COVID-19 vaccine during the public health emergency.
Some states have enacted legislation specifically allowing pharmacists to administer the COVID-19 vaccine when the declaration expires at the end of the public health emergency. States such as New Hampshire, New York, Virginia and Wisconsin have enacted legislation allowing licensed pharmacists and qualified pharmacy assistants and interns to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. Some states, such as Connecticut, Georgia and Nebraska, expanded pharmacist vaccination authority to include the COVID-19 vaccine through executive order.
State and territorial governments are also partnering with the federal government, as well as 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks, to increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. The program has engaged more than 40,000 pharmacies that have administered hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 vaccines so far.
As states open vaccine eligibility to all adults, pharmacists will continue to play an important role in ordering and administering the COVID-19 vaccination to meet the demand, as well as educating and engaging patients on immunization.
NCSL recently launched new content on its Scope of Practice Policy website to include pharmacists’ authority to administer the COVID-19 vaccines, as well as additional information on pharmacists’ scope of practice. The rebranded website relaunched to create a more user-friendly experience with an updated look. Visit the website for 17 interactive state policy maps for eight different practitioners, and legislative tracking.