ARLINGTON, Va. — The National Association of Chain Drug Stores held its latest virtual press briefing Wednesday, January 13 on the critical role of retail pharmacy in administering the COVID-19 vaccine.NACDS president and CEO Steven Anderson and the association’s senior vice president, pharmacy care and patient advocacy Kathleen Jaeger hosted the event, which updated the media on the massive efforts to get the vaccine beyond distribution and into the arms of Americans needing it most.
Based on conservative estimates, NACDS projects that retail pharmacies can meet demand for 100 million vaccines in one month when such supply is available.
As Anderson highlighted during the briefing, this discussion is more important now than ever with more than 4,000 deaths per day in the U.S. and even more contagious mutations of the virus emerging.
“We’re masking, we’re practicing social distancing, but we are not going to fully overcome this pandemic and get back to normalcy without safe and effective vaccines,” Anderson says. “We need to get the vaccines out and the trust, accessibility, reach and experience of pharmacy is crucial in this effort.”
All along, NACDS has held the view that the health of the nation is intrinsically linked to the health of the economy, especially returning Americans back to work safely and re-opening schools. While the nation should not lose sight of its efforts to expand access to COVID-19 testing and treatment strategies, now is the time to aggressively ramp up the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination initiative “adeptly, equitably and safely.”
In leveraging the existing retail pharmacy network, Anderson points out that 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy, so these retail pharmacies, no matter how big or small, can swiftly and efficiently accelerate the vaccination of priority populations.
It’s also worth noting that many of these pharmacies are regularly open nights and weekends and are already providing easy access to routine vaccinations, especially in rural and underserved areas.
It is critical, according to NACDS, that the federal government turn on the existing, yet dormant Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program, which is designed to harness the existing, substantial capabilities and efficient operations of the pharmacy industry to proficiently, safely, and equitably vaccinate the American public for COVID.
The reason NACDS sees this as so imperative is because the estimate of America’s retail pharmacies administering 100 million vaccine doses in 30 days would exceed both the Trump’s Administration’s goal of 20 million shots as well as the Incoming Biden-Harris Administration’s promise of 100 million doses in 100 days.
Currently, the federal government plan only leverages the nation’s 40,000 retail pharmacies with one vaccinating pharmacist per store to reach this goal, says Jaeger, who believes this should be, and could be, accelerated as stores deploy more vaccinators, such as pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacy interns, nurses, clinic physicians, EMTs and others able to do so.
Allowing the chain pharmacy industry to step up to the plate and to return health and prosperity to America will work, in Jaeger’s view, because retail pharmacies have the experience, skillset, training, operational processes and know-how, such as having vaccinated Americans in the H1N1 pandemic. Also, pharmacies continue to be critical assets in emergencies and natural disasters, setting up pharmacies in evacuation sites, providing tetanus and other vaccinations during hurricanes, and building and executing COVID drive thru testing clinics.
Additionally, as NACDS points out, retail pharmacies already vaccinate communities across the country every day, reaching millions of Americans per year, including the annual ramping up for flu shots and, most importantly, for surges in flu shots such as those experienced this season.
In fact, the CDC reports that 1 in 3 adult influenza vaccines were provided at a community pharmacy during the 2018-2019 flu season. On top of that, recent polling indicates that 85% of Americans believe pharmacists should be allowed to provide a vaccine to protect against COVID-19, while a CDC study found that the inclusion of pharmacies in vaccine distribution during a pandemic can help the nation vaccinate 80% of the population 7 weeks faster.
To best serve the American people, NACDS says it’s necessary to unleash the efficiency of the retail pharmacy sector.
Now is not the time, in the view of NACDS, to not only unleash the power of the pharmacy in this fight, but to rely on state-by-state solutions for mass vaccinations.
Bottom line: It’s time for retail pharmacies to start administering vaccines “equitably, safely and efficiently,” Anderson says.
To achieve this, NACDS’ “simple vaccination solution” of providing 100 million doses in 30 days, breaks down to 3.3 million vaccinations per day across 40,000 chain pharmacies, 83 vaccinations per day per pharmacy given by 1 vaccinator over a 12-hour timeframe, which equals 7 vaccinations per hour per store.
NACDS considers this a conservative estimate because some chain pharmacies may utilize multiple vaccinators over a 12-hour period rather than just a single vaccinator within their stores.
Also, as Jaeger points out, if the government called on pharmacies to support efforts to stand up mass vaccination or drive-thru clinics, even greater capacity could be offered by retail pharmacies.
“It is easy for pharmacists to answer this call,” she says. “We stand ready our capacity is tremendous.”