The patient was 80+ years old. A recent breast cancer survivor—still regularly getting her immune system checked. Taking care of her husband who had just tested positive for COVID. Thinking ahead, she called her primary care provider to ask for a Paxlovid prescription before the weekend. No response. She called again. No response. Even family members called. No response. That Saturday night she tested positive for COVID.
Today marks the end of the 38-month public health emergency, a period marked by uncertainty and tragedy that was ultimately eclipsed by the triumph of the medical and public health communities—led by community pharmacists and their teams. Pharmacists were given the authority to order and administer COVID vaccines and treatments and, with several caveats, prescribe certain COVID treatments like Paxlovid. Much of those 38 months were rough; marked with lockdowns and shutdowns. Most of America is more than ready to move on. I'm one of them too. But, pharmacists and the pharmacy teams they led blazed too many trails to go backwards on the progress we made as a profession over the last 3 years.
More than 270 million Americans were vaccinated or boosted against COVID—and many of them thanks to you. We earned the public's trust by being there when others were shut down unable to see patients and by being there seven days a week to provide treatment, advice, and—often—just a word of assurance. Pharmacists are part of the fabric of American life and, as our role has expanded for everyday Americans, our status in the community has not been this well defined and this strong for over half a century.
Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the 11th PREP Act amendment, which allows pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy interns to administer COVID-19 vaccinations and tests, and to provide influenza vaccines as early as age three, until December 31, 2024. (One change to note is that under the PREP Act amendment and guidance from HHS, pharmacists will not be able to order COVID-19 tests for reimbursement under Medicare.)
On the whole, this is welcome news and HHS has wisely confirmed what we all knew: That pharmacists, in continuing to order and administer COVID vaccines, play a necessary and game-changing role in the lives of millions of Americans. As I said, I hope today marks a continuation—and even an expansion—of that role.
The U.S. is not the only country that's discovered the value of community pharmacists. In the U.K., their government pledged earlier this week an investment of £645 million (or about $814 million) in community pharmacies to support its National Health Service' future plans focused on improving access to primary care. Patients will be able to get prescriptions directly from pharmacists for contraceptives, blood pressure medications, and common conditions like earaches, sore throats, sinusitis, impetigo, shingles, infected insect bites, and urinary tract infections. This is the very definition of what it means to invest in primary care services, and the very spirit of progressive thinking not about what pharmacists could mean to national healthcare, but a recognition of what they already mean to millions of people.
What happened with that elderly (but spry) COVID+ patient who's requests for Paxlovid were ignored by her primary prescriber? Her pharmacist son prescribed it for her. And, I'm happy to report that mom's doing fine now.
B. Douglas Hoey, Pharmacist, MBA