Expert Says Pharmacists Are ‘Ready, Willing, and Able’ to Provide COVID-19 Vaccinations

Pharmacy Times® interviewed Kurt Proctor, PhD, RPh, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at the NCPA, on positive stories from pharmacies engaged in COVID-19 vaccinations and any unforeseen issues that may have arisen at vaccination sites.

Pharmacy Times® interviewed Kurt Proctor, PhD, RPh, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacy Association, on how the Biden administration’s launch of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program may affect the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination rollout.

During this discussion, Proctor discusses some positive stories from pharmacies engaged in COVID-19 vaccinations, any unforeseen issues that may have arisen at COVID-19 vaccination sites, and whether incentives on the state or federal level for pharmacies to vaccinate would be beneficial.

Alana Hippensteele: Have you heard any positive stories from pharmacies engaged in COVID-19 vaccinations?

Kurt Proctor: Sure. So far anybody that's been involved with this has been doing it through the state, and they've been following the direction of the local health department, the state health department, the governors, or whomever it might be that is engaged pharmacies. We certainly saw in a few states that use independent pharmacies for the long-term care facilities, which was right out of the blocks of West Virginia, which is one state that's cited most frequently for how successful they were by engaging independent pharmacies in that long-term care space and in those facilities. But we certainly have lots of members who, working with their state, have gotten vaccines, are doing clinics, vaccination events, etc—consistent with what the state is wanting to happen. So yeah, there's a lot of those good stories out there for sure.

Alana Hippensteele: Have you heard of any unforeseen issues that may have arisen at COVID-19 vaccination sites that may be beneficial for pharmacies to consider and prepare for?

Kurt Proctor: Not so much. I mean we saw in the news some of the big chains scheduling systems have had issues, which is somewhat understandable given the volume of interest in this, but so I don't really think there's unforeseen issues. Some of them are kind of foreseen in terms of billing issues. Some pharmacies are prepared to be billing this correctly, [but] are the processors, payers, and folks ready to deal with pharmacies providing this on the medical side? They are not always used to dealing with pharmacies and including pharmacies among their providers. So, they need to get used to that.

But the pharmacies, we've been telling them all along to get ready in terms of scheduling capabilities, the waitlist capabilities—being able to report to their state registries all of those kinds of things. The CDC also through the federal program is asking for some additional data, and the pharmacies through the entities in the federal partnership program are working very hard to get what are some new data elements into the mix and get that reported. They're focused on getting to the socially vulnerable populations.

So, not so much unforeseen, but there's some new challenges and some folks who haven't done appointments in their pharmacy before, that may be a little new to them, but many have and many have gotten medication synchronization programs, so they've been doing this appointment-based model for quite some time now and are more used to doing appointments and operating that way than probably some of the bigger pharmacies are. But there's obviously going to be little hurdles along the way, but I don't think there's been any huge surprises in that regard.

Alana Hippensteele: Right. Are there any incentives on the state or federal level for pharmacies in terms of vaccinations, and if not, would incentives be beneficial to consider in order to broaden the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines across the country?

Kurt Proctor: Well right now, as we said, the real issue with availability is just the supply of the product itself. So, it's not like there aren't pharmacies that are ready, willing, and able to do the vaccinations and other providers as well, so I don't think it's not a matter of needing to get the people who can do vaccinations to do them—they're ready, willing, and able to do it.

Now, to the extent that any of the payers who don't want to pay even the Medicare rates or something, that could cause a hiccup for folks who say, ‘I'm not being paid enough to do this,’ I mean, that could happen. But fortunately, Medicare set some rates, and most payers seem to be following very closely with the rates Medicare set. So, most pharmacies are motivated by taking care of their patients first and foremost, so they don't really need incentives to do that—that's naturally what they do. If we just give them the vaccine, they're going to, I think, do a pretty good job and not be hesitating to get that vaccine in the arms of the patients in their community.