Bipartisan Correspondence Urges HHS to Increase Focus on Community Pharmacies for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

The letter said states where community pharmacists have taken a larger leadership role have seen a much faster distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable populations.

US Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and David B. McKinley (R-WV) have sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging President Biden’s administration to follow the lead of states that have used a community pharmacist-led approach in the national coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine distribution strategy.1

The correspondence follows a joint letter sent earlier this week from the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, which urged governors to utilize independent pharmacies.2

“Community pharmacists are integral parts of the communities they serve, especially in rural and underserved communities,” said the letter by Spanberger and McKinley. “Their years of providing patient-centered care and wrap-around pharmacy services means they have earned their patients’ and their communities’ trust. This experience makes them uniquely capable of addressing the high rates of vaccine hesitancy we’ve seen among minority and underserved communities.”1

In their letter, Spanberger and McKinley said states where community pharmacists have taken a larger leadership role have seen a much faster distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable populations. The letter also urged HHS to learn from these approaches and incorporate them into the federal vaccination strategy, including in efforts to increase education and combat misinformation about the vaccine.1

“Community pharmacists have the flexibility to cut through red tape and reduce paperwork burdens for patients and their guardians in many cases,” Spanberger and McKinley wrote. “For example, in West Virginia, the community pharmacists demonstrated great ingenuity in establishing a vaccine drive that finished administering the first round of the vaccine to nursing home residents by the end of December. By comparison, at the end of December most other states had only just begun administering the first dose of the vaccine to nursing home residents.”1

The letter emphasized the stakes of vaccine distribution, particularly for at-risk populations such as nursing home residents. According to the letter, more than 100,000 nursing home residents and staff have died from COVID-19 since April 2020. Deaths in long-term care facilities have also increased as community spread had worsened, according to the press release.1

“The Virginia Assisted Living Association (VALA) appreciates the inclusion of assisted living communities in the Long-Term Care Pharmacy Partnership Program for vaccinations, but we encourage HHS to recognize the dire need in providing additional and faster vaccination pathways for residents and staff members of all long-term care communities, including assisted living communities, nursing facilities, and independent living communities,” said Judy Hackler, executive director of the Virginia Assisted Living Association, in a prepared statement. “Reducing paperwork burdens and increasing the number of pharmacies able to provide vaccinations will help to save lives.”1

Earlier this week, a joint letter from the chief executive officers of NCPA and the ASCP also urged state governors to enlist independent long-term care pharmacies in order to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations among senior citizens and other vulnerable populations. Chad Worz, PharmD, BCGP, chief executive of ASCP, joined B. Douglas Hoey, BS Pharm, CEO of NCPA, in submitting the correspondence to the National Governors Association.2

The federal government has contracted with CVS and Walgreens to handle vaccine distribution in long-term care facilities, although a NCPA press release noted that this process has had challenges. Worz and Hoey suggested instead utilizing the new Federal Transfer Program and allocating vaccines to independent pharmacies.2

“By requesting a transfer, states will be able to deploy all existing local and [long-term care] pharmacies that have signed up with the CDC, which is critical to ensuring vaccine access in rural, isolated, and smaller skilled nursing facilities (SNF), assisted living facilities (ALF), and congregate care environments,” the letter said. “Currently, the large national pharmacy chains (CVS, Walgreens) have vaccinated a critical mass of larger SNFs, but there are still thousands of federally governed SNFs and close to 37,800 state-run ALFs that require inoculations. By states engaging in the LTC jurisdiction transfer process, states will be able to utilize the pharmacists already in these care environments to vaccinate residents and patients.”2

REFERENCES

  • Spanberger, McKinley Call on HHS to Increase Focus on Community Pharmacies in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution [news release]. Email; Received January 29, 202
  • Independent Pharmacies Can be a Shot in the Arm for State Vaccine Programs, National Groups Tell Governors [news release]. Washington, DC; January 26, 2021; National Community Pharmacists Association. Accessed January 29, 2021. https://ncpa.org/newsroom/news-releases/2021/01/26/independent-pharmacies-can-be-shot-arm-state-vaccine-programs.