In an effort to increase access to childhood vaccines and decrease the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has authorized all state-licensed pharmacists and pharmacy interns to order and administer vaccines for patients aged 3 through 18 years.

A press release from HHS cited a May 2020 CDC report that found a significant drop in routine childhood immunizations as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This decrease represents a threat to public health and a collateral harm of the pandemic, HHS said in the release.

“Today’s action means easier access to lifesaving vaccines for our children, as we seek to ensure immunization rates remain high during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar, JD, in a statement.

This action represents the third amendment to the declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. According to a press release, the declaration is subject to several requirements, including that the vaccine must be approved or licensed by the FDA and must be ordered and administered according to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices immunization schedules.

The administering pharmacist must also complete a training program of at least 20 hours that is approved by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), which must include hands-on injection technique, clinical evaluation of vaccine indications and contraindications, and the recognition and treatment of emergency reactions to vaccines.

Pharmacy interns who are licensed or registered with the state board of pharmacy can also administer vaccines under the supervision of a pharmacist. Interns must also complete an ACPE-approved program covering the same topics as pharmacist programs. Both pharmacists and interns must have a current certificate in basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

The press release noted that these requirements are consistent with many states that already permit pharmacists to order and administer vaccines to children and follows HHS goals of expanding access to childhood vaccines.

“As a pediatric critical care physician who has treated critically ill children suffering from vaccine preventable diseases, I know first-hand the devastation to the child—and to the family and community—of a death or severe brain damage that could have been avoided by a safe and effective vaccine,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir, MD, in a statement. “The cornerstone of public health, vaccines, makes these dreaded diseases preventable. As we expand options during the COVID-19 response, we are also reminding parents, grandparents, and caretakers that there is no substitute for a critically important well-child visit with a pediatrician or other licensed primary care provider when available.”

REFERENCE
HHS Expands Access to Childhood Vaccines During COVID-19 Pandemic [news release]. HHS; August 19, 2020. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/08/19/hhs-expands-access-childhood-vaccines-during-covid-19-pandemic.html. Accessed August 19, 2020.