How Community Pharmacies Can Prepare for the Arrival of COVID-19 Vaccines

Pharmacy Times® interviewed John Beckner, the senior director of strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association, on the work needed to prepare for the arrival and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.

Pharmacy Times® interviewed John Beckner, the senior director of strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), on the work needed to prepare for the arrival and administration of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines.

Alana Hippensteele: Today, I’m speaking with John Beckner, the senior director of strategic initiatives at [NCPA], on the work pharmacies across the country are engaging in to prepare for the arrival and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, which recently received an EUA from the FDA, as well as the COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna, which has a potentially imminent EUA.

So John, what is preparation for the arrival of these vaccines going to look like for pharmacists in the months ahead?

John Beckner: Well Alana, first of all thanks for having me on today and looking forward to speaking with you.

You know, when you think about it, pharmacists have been mentally preparing for the arrival of the vaccine for several months, and now that that day is finally here. Certainly with the Pfizer vaccine and with the anticipated approval of the Moderna vaccine hopefully later this week, I think they're really going to be ready to execute. But you know I guess over the last few weeks, pharmacists have been ramping up with regard to their preparations, and I'll mention a few things.

All vaccinators really have to meet some basic requirements for storage and handling and they're certainly very specific with the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage. You know honestly, not a whole lot of community pharmacies are going to be able to satisfy those storage requirements. Maybe some, but I think their participation in the vaccine administration program is going to come a little bit later with these other vaccines that don't require the ultra-cold storage.

But aside from that, when you look at getting ready to be a vaccine administrator, one essential requirement is data storage and reporting capabilities: All pharmacies are going to need to be able to report to their state immunization registries, and there may be some federal requirements as well, so hopefully most pharmacies are ready with that requirement.

They also need to be able to get access to the vaccine, and they can do that through several pathways, one of which is through their state health or local health department. We've been encouraging pharmacies to establish these relationships with their health departments actually since the beginning of this process.

The other pathways are through the CPESN networks, or community pharmacy enhanced services networks, and also through their pharmacy services administrative organizations, or PSAOs, that are affiliated with the larger wholesalers. So hopefully they've taken the steps to be able to access the vaccine.

They also should be enrolled in VaccineFinder, which is actually a database that's maintained by the CDC of all pharmacies that vaccinated and specific information about the types of vaccines that they provide.

Then finally—actually a couple more things. You know, with the unprecedented demand for this vaccine, pharmacies are going to have to put a staffing plan in place, so they should be thinking about that. And we'll probably talk about this a little bit further on in the interview, as we really need to talk specifically about vaccine hesitancy. Pharmacists really ought to be having early conversations with their patients about vaccine hesitancy, and early on encouraging their patients to get the vaccine.

Alana Hippensteele: Right. So, what is the role of pharmacies in vaccinating the public with these COVID-19 vaccines?

John Beckner: Well, I mean, pharmacists are going to play a very high profile role. In fact, the role of the pharmacist is going to be very critical to a successful vaccination program. I know we've all heard Dr. Anthony Fauci on the news several times or many times over the course of the last 9 months, and he has stated that roughly 70 to 75% of the American population has to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity. Once you achieve herd immunity, well then the curve is going to start to go downward in terms of the trajectory of this disease. So pharmacists, because of the unique role they play with regard to immunizations, and just looking at some statistics—over 40% of Americans receive their seasonal flu vaccine at a community pharmacy, so when you look at that, it's easy to see what a very important and critical role pharmacists are going to play in the COVID-19 vaccination program.