Since the start of 2019, the world as we knew it has been upended with the eruption and unprecedented escalation of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The tragic details of the impact of this outbreak on the entire world calls for innovative and adaptive strategies across many industries. Similarly to industries such as food service, hotels, transportation, and higher education, the pharmaceutical industry has been gravely affected by COVID-19.

Pharmacists, being the most accessible health care professionals, have an important role to play in the management of this pandemic.1 Community pharmacies and specialty pharmacies will continue to be the focal points of health care delivery in various communities across the globe.

This is not new, as community pharmacies have always been pivotal in health care delivery in the wake of pandemics. In 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic, community pharmacies were instrumental in the delivery of public health education and vaccinations in many communities.2

COVID-19 has ushered the world into a new normal. This new normal cuts across all facets our lives and we must expect this new way of living to affect how many of our former activities will be conducted now and in the near future. Hand sanitizers, face masks, infra-red thermometers, personal protective equipment (PPE), contact tracing mobile applications, and rapid tests to detect either the virus or anti-bodies will be used in never seen before volumes.

As many states begin to ease the lock-down restrictions, community pharmacies will begin to experience large turnouts of customers. Long queues occasioned by the social distancing measures will be a normal sight in most community pharmacies.

Wearing a mask will no longer be an option, it will become a requirement in order to enter community pharmacies. In the OTC aisles, the demand for hand sanitizers, facial masks, immune boosting supplements, and thermometers has been immense, leading store managers and organizations to put measures in place to avoid shortages. The pharmacy staff should brace themselves not only for the huge turnouts but also be well prepared to give adequate COVID-19 education that borders on prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.

In the wake of this new normal, pharmacists will be expected to bring to bear the maximum doses of their wealth of knowledge. There continues to be several calls across various states for expanded roles and provider status for pharmacists.

Although this goal is yet to be fully realized achieved, the designation of pharmacies as centers for testing and administering of COVID-19 tests is big a step in the right direction. Community pharmacists will soon be seen in PPE and we must be ready to see physical changes, such as plexiglass barriers, the next time we visit our local community pharmacy. 

Considering all these changes that are likely to be seen in the not too distant future, pharmacists and the pharmacy staff may soon experience burn out if measures are not put in place. Specialty pharmacies are another group within the pharmacy industry that have also been affected by COVID-19.

Specialty pharmacies have become the bedrock for certain kinds of medications that usually cannot be sourced from the regular community pharmacy. Some patients who have more uncommon diagnoses rely on specialty pharmacies in order to get their medications.

One of the challenges facing specialty pharmacists during and post COVID-19 will be the management of drug shortages due to the unavailability of manufactured products and source materials around the globe. Even though specialty pharmacists may not have the same level of face-to-face interaction with patients as community pharmacists do, they are expected to have their fair share of increased workloads as the lockdown is gradually eased across various states. In the future, specialty pharmacies and their proven distribution model will continue to expand thanks to the novel medications in the pipelines of most biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

In summary, pharmacists are a key resource who must be used in delivering the optimum health care our societies need. COVID-19 has had a great impact on specialty and community pharmacies in the long- and short-term. In the short-term, the workload and number of visits in these pharmacies are expected to rise immensely.

In the long-term, the roles of pharmacists are expected to expand to other services within the skills they hone and yet have not been used. We must brace ourselves for this new normal and support our pharmacists to be their best in fighting COVID-19 and any future pandemics.

References
  1. Todd, A. Copeland, A. Husband, A. Kasim, C. Bambra, The positive pharmacy care law: an area-level analysis of the relationship between community pharmacy distribution, urbanity and social deprivation in England BMJ Open, 4 (8) (2014), Article e005764
  2. S. Miller, N. Patel, T. Vadala, J. Abrons, J. CerulliDefining the pharmacist role in the pandemic outbreak of novel H1N1 influenza. J Am Pharm Assoc, 52 (6) (2012), pp. 763-767
About the Authors
Nana Mainoo
 will graduate from the Nova Southeastern College of Pharmacy in the spring of 2021.

Jonathan Ogurchak, PharmD, CSPis the founder and CEO of STACK, a pharmacy compliance management software, and serves as preceptor for a virtual Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiential Rotation for specialty pharmacy, during which this article was composed.