Are Pharmacies the Problem or the COVID-19 Vaccination Solution

New York leaders challenge pharmacies to meet the vaccination needs of all communities
pharmacist in store
(Precision Vaccinations)

When New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and others called attention to potential shortcomings in the US government's COVID-19 vaccination plan, he highlighted under-served communities access to pharmacy services.

On November 1, 2020, Governor Cuomo’s press statement “criticized the current federal plan for relying on the existing influenza vaccination infrastructure and private healthcare entities, which have historically resulted in under-vaccination rates and worse health outcomes in communities of color.”

Gov. Cuomo said  “they'll distribute (COVID-19 vaccine) to pharmacy chains, hospitals, doctor's offices, et cetera. It's the same infrastructure that was lacking that caused the healthcare disparities in the first place, that caused the higher infection rate in the black and brown community, that caused the reduced testing rate in the black and brown community." 

"And now the (COVID-19) vaccine, they are going to go back to the same apparatus, which you know doesn't work for the black and brown and poorer communities in this country.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James added during the conversation: “You might see a big chain pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens on every other block in communities in Manhattan. But let's be clear — the neighborhoods where more of our communities of color live do not have this type of (pharmacy) access.”

According to the New York City (NYC) health website, over 2,600 pharmacies are located citywide. And, the NYC Department of Health partners with pharmacies to prepare for and after public health emergencies.

Moreover, regarding racial and gender diversification, the 2019 National Pharmacist Workforce Study highlighted significant gains.

According to the study’s results, the percentage of non-white licensed pharmacists increased by 46%, from 14.9% in 2014 to 21.8% in 2019. Specifically, the percentage of black pharmacists more than doubled, from 2.3% to 4.9%.

And, in 2009, only 46.4% of the pharmacy workforce was women, compared to nearly 65% of the workforce in 2019. This trend extends into leadership roles, as well, where 58.8% of pharmacists in management positions were women in 2019.

However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on November 6, 2020, they are now including the Good Neighbor Pharmacy and Elevate Provider Network members in the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Strategy for COVID-19 Vaccination. This expansion represents more than 4,100 independent community pharmacies in the USA, including many located in the state of New York.

Previously, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Defense announced agreements on October 16, 2020, with over 20,000 CVS and Walgreens to provide and administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities (LTCF), with no out-of-pocket costs. 

“Protecting the vulnerable has been the number one priority of the administration’s response to COVID-19, and that commitment will continue through distributing a safe and effective vaccine earliest to those who need it most,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar, in a press release. 

“Our unprecedented public-private partnership with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies will provide convenient and free vaccination to residents of nursing homes across America, another historic achievement in our efforts to get a safe and effective vaccine to Americans as fast as possible.”

To meet this unprecedented demand, on October 19, 2020, Rhode Island-based CVS Health announced ‘that it was recruiting qualified candidates to fill 15,000 jobs to help respond to the needs of communities across the country during the fall and winter months when the incidences of COVID-19 and influenza are expected to increase.’

And on August 19, 2020, HHS issued a third amendment to the Declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act to increase access to life-saving childhood vaccines and decrease the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks as children across the United States return to daycare, preschool, and school.

The 3rd amendment authorized state-licensed pharmacists and pharmacy interns acting under their supervision to administer vaccines to order and administer vaccines to individuals ages three through 18 years of age.

Currently, pharmacies administer over 30 percent of vaccines in the USA.

During September 2020, the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) issued the following statement on behalf of CEO B. Douglas Hoey, Pharmacist, MBA: ‘The country needs pharmacists to be a major player in the administration of coronavirus vaccines. As with coronavirus testing, ensuring access to vaccines in community pharmacies and national chains will be critical to help Operation Warp Speed meet its goal of administering 300 million doses nationwide.” 

“Independent pharmacy is ready and eager to partner in the administration of the vaccines,” added Hoey.

A recent NCPA study found that 86 percent of community pharmacists say they plan to offer the COVID-19 vaccines when they hit the marketplace, key in ensuring that the vaccine reaches the rural and medically underserved communities relying on the services of these independent pharmacies.

Founded in 1898, the NCPA represents over 21,000 pharmacies that employ approximately 250,000 individuals nationwide.

CoronavirusToday publishes research-based COVID-19 pandemic news.