The centrality of retail pharmacies in protecting the health of Americans was underscored earlier this month when the Department of Health and Human Services reached an agreement with a group of national retailers, regional chains and networks of independent drug stores to facilitate COVID-19 immunizations, after one or more vaccines receive Food and Drug Administration approval. Involving some 60% of community pharmacies across the United States, the deal paves the way for people to get vaccinated against coronavirus.
“We are leveraging the existing private sector infrastructure to get safe and effective vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed into communities and into arms as quickly as possible with no out-of-pocket costs,” says HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and our new agreement with pharmacy partners across America is a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”
News of the deal, which includes such chains as CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Walmart, Meijer and Kroger, as well the Health Mart and Good Neighbor Pharmacy networks, was welcomed by pharmacy advocates. “HHS’ announcement is another crucial advancement in the fight against this virus,” says Steve Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, “and it will precede more and more progress in the future involving more and more pharmacies, pharmacists and pharmacy team members.”
Pharmacy operators have reason to take pride in the fact that, in the midst of the most serious public health emergency since the influenza pandemic of 1918, the federal government recognizes a combination of strengths — expertise, accessibility and trust — unique among health care providers. But, as Anderson notes, “it also will be critical to continue to anticipate, identify and resolve any nagging barriers that stand in the way of efficient administration of COVID-19 vaccinations and other services that are essential to the American people.”
Impediments to unleashing the full power of community pharmacy need urgent attention if it is to maximize its impact during the pandemic and beyond. Establishing a framework for equitable remuneration is equally important for the long-term viability of the profession. While the middle of a global pandemic is certainly not the right time to haggle about reimbursements, members of the profession can’t allow anyone to forget the value they alone bring to the health care system.