Independent Community Pharmacies Stepped Up With COVID-19 Response

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During the pandemic, many community pharmacists also gained the authority to provide routine vaccinations for child populations.

Independent community pharmacies played an important role the COVID-19 response, especially in the vaccination of socially vulnerable populations, according to Brittany Hoffmann-Eubanks, PharmD, MBA, Senior Manager, Clinical Pharmacy Oversight at Health Mart, Chicago, Illinois, who joined Pharmacy Times at McKesson ideaShare 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada, June 22 to 25. Tune in to learn more about the importance of the pharmacist's resonse.

PT Staff: What role did independent community pharmacies play in the COVID-19 response?

Brittany Hoffmann-Eubanks, PharmD, MBA: So independent pharmacies had a major role in the COVID-19 response. We had a lot of private and public relationships that came together through distributors, pharmacies, and a number of other scientists and manufacturers that came together to help create the process to be able to ship and get the vaccines to the pharmacies to ultimately provide those lifesaving vaccines to patients that really needed it. And as part of that, specifically with Health Mart (a part of McKesson) and McKesson, we had over 1,300 pharmacies that administered over 2.4 million COVID-19 vaccines, really stepping up at the forefront being on the front line to take care of their patients and make sure that everyone was protected from vaccine preventable diseases.

PT Staff: What role did independent community pharmacies play in the response to COVID-19?

Brittany Hoffmann-Eubanks, PharmD, MBA: So this was a really important piece and component of COVID-19. I think we saw, as you know, time went by that there were a lot of gap areas in there particularly related to social determinants of health (SDOH). And approximately 90% of Americans live within 1 to 5 miles of a pharmacy. But with our community pharmacies, or in communities that are in underserved areas, a community pharmacy might be the only pharmacy or the only access point to health care that they have.

So we recently had the opportunity to present a study at the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) this year on the impact of pharmacy-provided vaccines with our independent franchise pharmacies. And what we saw throughout the COVID-19 pandemic was that there are a lot of SDOH that were gap areas, and that people had trouble getting access to basic necessities in some cases. As a pharmacist, myself, I saw this in community practice when I was on the frontlines giving vaccines. We'd have patients that came in, and in some cases, were scared of how they would get access to basic necessities. So with respect to our role in underserved communities, and in some cases of pharmacy, you might be the only access point to a healthcare facility in general. And so 90% of Americans do live within 5 miles of a pharmacy. But it's important that they're able to have that access and be able to take care of their patients. And so what I'd like to point out is that in the study that we did, we found that over half of the vaccines that we administered—to over 2.4 million people in over 1,300 pharmacies— were actually in socially vulnerable populations.

PT Staff: Was that surprising?

Brittany Hoffmann-Eubanks, PharmD, MBA: I think surprising isn't necessarily the way that I would describe it. But I think it speaks to just how important local independent community pharmacies are. They're embedded in their community, they're able to have those conversations with their patients talk about the importance of vaccines, and really make an impact and break down some of those barriers that we see to access to care.

PT Staff: Did the COVID-19 vaccine program impact the administration of routine vaccines (ie flu)?

Brittany Hoffmann-Eubanks, PharmD, MBA: Yes, it absolutely impacted routine vaccines. If you remember back to March 2020, everything shut down. And so because of that, there really just wasn't a great opportunity to access vaccines. But one of the great things is that, through the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act), pharmacists—and student pharmacists and even technicians later—were given the authority to be able to administer COVID-19 vaccines. And then later we saw that, because there was such an importance and such a gap in all of the vaccines that were needed to be administered, and just because you couldn't get into your doctor and see them to have that care, they provided the additional authority for routine vaccines to be administered to patients down to the age of 3. And so pharmacists and their teams were able then to help additionally take care of patients. And so we now had an additional opportunity to even vaccinate some of our most tender-age patients, and help them get up to date since they weren't able to get in to their pediatricians in some cases.

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