Starting next week, CVS and Walgreens will send teams of pharmacists to tens of thousands of long-term care facilities nationwide to inoculate people against COVID-19.
Pharmacists will also give the coronavirus vaccine to the general public once it's more widely available, making them a central part of the vaccine rollout, says Michael Hogue, who serves on a committee advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the use of the vaccine. He is also president of the American Pharmacists Association.
“The federal government is relying heavily on community-based pharmacies,” he says. “And that's not just the large box chain pharmacies, but also the small independent pharmacies, to be able to get shots into patients' arms.”
The role of pharmacists in the vaccine rollout is especially crucial in rural areas, he says, because oftentimes small town pharmacists are the only health care professionals available for miles and miles.
For the vaccine deployment, CVS is hiring more than 1,500 pharmacists, as well as pharmacy technicians and nurses in places like Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana — and that’s just their efforts in one part of the country.
Demand for pharmacists is high. Hogue says he believes there will be enough professionals available to meet the needs, especially if student pharmacists are involved in the effort.
There are 144 schools of pharmacy in the U.S., he says, and each student within those schools are trained to vaccinate patients. He predicts many will volunteer their time to help.
“It takes a large group of people to be able to vaccinate the entire U.S. population with the coronavirus vaccine,” he says.
Pharmacists have been working diligently on the frontlines of the pandemic, he says. They’ve had to expand their roles during the coronavirus crisis in multiple ways.
For example, childhood vaccination rates have plummeted during the pandemic. The federal government authorized pharmacists to “prescribe pediatric immunizations and to help get children caught up on their pediatric immunization schedule,” he says, in order to close the gap and minimize risk.
They’ve also taken a massive role in COVID-19 testing after the Department of Health and Human Services authorized licensed pharmacists to prescribe, order and administer coronavirus tests.
“I think now that our health systems have seen and our government has seen that pharmacists can play this role, they're likely going to have those roles to play for the future,” Hogue says. “They'll probably be permanent changes to the way health care is delivered.”
With the coronavirus vaccine, pharmacies will need to take an “all hands on deck approach” with full team engagement, he says.
Certified pharmacy technicians, under the supervision of a pharmacist, will be able to give the COVID-19 vaccines now, Hogue explains, so large pharmacy chains will likely go on technician hiring sprees.
While getting the vaccine into peoples’ arms is crucial, pharmacists also have the vital responsibility of ensuring appropriate medication outcomes, he says.
“So having pharmacy technicians and student pharmacists working in these community pharmacies under the pharmacist supervision to actually administer the doses will help out a lot,” Hogue says, “so that the pharmacist can continue to keep people healthy with their medications while this vaccination effort is going on.”
This segment aired on December 17, 2020.