Webcast: The Impact of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program on COVID-19 Vaccinations and Pharmacists

March 16, 2021

Following the establishment of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program by the CDC, a panel of experts sat down with Pharmacy Times® to address the implications of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Following the establishment of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program by the CDC, a panel of experts sat down with Pharmacy Times® to address the implications of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 vaccinations and the role of pharmacy in the implementation of an effective vaccination program in the country.

Joining the discussion were Katie Barthelmas, COVID-19 Vaccination Network lead at Cardinal Health; Tasha Polster, vice president of Pharmacy Quality Compliance and Patient Safety at Walgreens; and Denise Scarpelli, executive director of Ambulatory Pharmacy Business and Development at University of Chicago Medicine.

The panel addressed topics including the role of pharmacies in the vaccination of hundreds of millions of patients, the impact of some of the challenges around meeting demand for vaccinations while maintaining other pharmacy services, ways of managing issues that arise in the use of scheduling systems for vaccinations, and ways of approaching issues around billing with COVID-19 vaccinations and specifically billing government agencies for patients without insurance.

Polster explained that billing for uninsured patients was a significant concern across the industry when the COVID-19 vaccine first launched, due to fears that uninsured patients would be left with the financial burden of having to pay for the vaccine.

“The government has done a good job in communicating that there are options for uninsured patients. We do follow the [Health Resources and Services Administration] guidelines for what to do when patients are without insurance and bill the government on the patient's behalf, and other government-funded plans have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine on their formulary,” Polster said. “We have not seen any issues of late of a government-funded plan rejecting and not paying for a vaccine. So, any uninsured patient can come into the pharmacy to get their vaccine with a zero copay.”

Barthelmas also shared that there was some exciting news in regard to new guidelines from the CDC around the expansion of enrollment opportunities for pharmacies.

“Before this Federal Retail Pharmacy Program roll out, there was sort of a line snapped in terms of pharmacies that had enrolled were getting ready, and we had to activate the network before we could really consider adding new pharmacies. Now, the CDC has allowed us to open up enrollment to the networks again, so if a pharmacy finds themselves ready to participate, wanting to enroll in the COVID-19 response and help out, they can do so,” Barthelmas said.

Additionally, Barthelmas noted that if a pharmacy was interested in becoming a COVID-19 vaccinator but was in need of support around the preparation process, her organization and others are available and ready to guide them step-by-step. 

“That's what we as network administrators are here to do and help support. If a pharmacy is interested in becoming a COVID-19 vaccinator, we're here to help them check all those boxes on reporting, scheduling, clinical recommendations, and just helping them know the full scope of what they would need to get ready. So, if they feel ready and willing to participate, I would encourage pharmacies to do so,” Barthelmas said.

During the discussion, the panelists also addressed issues around the availability of vaccine, storage and handling of vaccine, adequate supply of personal protective equipment, and vaccine hesitancy, as well as the additional need to promote other vaccines along with the COVID-19 vaccine and to potentially administer booster shots in the future to manage the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants.