Kevin Duane: Give pharmacists the tools to fight COVID-19

Fight against the coronavirus. Concept
Floridians are more likely to visit a pharmacy than go to the doctor’s office — especially now.

With so many lives turned upside down by COVID-19, we should use every tool available to get through these challenging times. The Jacksonville area was among the hardest-hit parts of the state, but we’re seeing signs of progress in a fight that will certainly be a marathon, not a sprint.

One resource that so many have relied on is pharmacists. Many neighborhood pharmacists have pitched in by providing free hand sanitizer, ramping up home deliveries, and making sure they’re stocked with essential medications so patients don’t have to worry about running out.

I’m an independent pharmacist and owner of the oldest pharmacy in Jacksonville. At Panama Pharmacy, we’re busier than I can ever remember. Our drive through traffic and home deliveries have nearly tripled over the last several weeks. But there is an opportunity to position pharmacists across the state so we can do even more.

I’m thankful that last month Gov. Ron DeSantis directed Florida’s Surgeon General to allow patients to get tested for coronavirus at pharmacies. That’s a step in the right direction, and we’re ready to be part of the solution.

But testing is only part of the equation. At some point, hopefully before long, a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available. It will probably be rolled out in stages — first to front-line health care workers, then to vulnerable populations, and finally to the rest of the public. When that happens, we’ll need a broad network of health care professionals to administer the vaccine. And it needs to happen quickly.

DeSantis has shown a willingness to look for creative solutions to cut through red tape and streamline options for Floridians. I’d like to propose another solution: Allow licensed pharmacists to administer FDA-approved vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, allowing pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations during a severe flu epidemic could prevent 23.7 million cases while saving $2.8 billion in health care costs.

Beyond just the eventual coronavirus vaccine, adults should be immunized against many vaccine-preventable diseases, and easier access to these vaccines helps safeguard everyone.

Unfortunately, if the only way to get a vaccine involves scheduling an appointment with your provider, driving to their office and waiting to be called, many people simply won’t do it. It’s not convenient enough.

Floridians are more likely to visit a pharmacy than go to the doctor’s office — especially now. We can streamline the process by allowing pharmacists to administer the eventual COVID-19 vaccine without requiring a physician protocol.

At ours and so many other neighborhood pharmacies, we know our patients by name. That puts pharmacists in a position to identify high-risk patients who may have preexisting conditions like respiratory diseases or diabetes, and encourage them to get recommended vaccines.

Pharmacists in every state can already give some vaccines, but an executive order expanding that authority would help reduce wait times when the coronavirus vaccine is available and ensure that families have another option to continue receiving routine immunizations.

Right now, states are considering new ways to give pharmacists the tools they need to help fight back against this virus. I encourage Florida to do the same and allow pharmacists to administer important vaccines that will help further protect our communities.

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Kevin Duane is a pharmacist and the owner of Panama Pharmacy in Jacksonville, which has been operating since 1928. He is also a member of Small Business Pharmacies Aligned for Reform (SPAR).

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