Spanberger, McKinley Call on HHS to Increase Focus on Community Pharmacies in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Jan 29, 2021
Healthcare
Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and David B. McKinley (R-WV-01) today sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calling on the administration to implement lessons learned from states that have opted for a community pharmacist-led approach in its national COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy.

In their letter to HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran, Spanberger and McKinley pointed to states where community pharmacists have taken a larger leadership role and have seen a much faster distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable populations, including nursing home residents. Additionally, the Members urged HHS to learn from these approaches and incorporate them into the federal COVID-19 vaccination strategy, including in efforts to combat hesitancy about receiving the vaccine in underserved and historically marginalized communities.

“Community pharmacists have the flexibility to cut through red tape and reduce paperwork burdens for patients and their guardians in many cases. 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 the December,” said Spanberger and McKinley. “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.”

Their letter continued, “The stakes could not be higher because nursing home residents are the most vulnerable to severe disease and death from coronavirus infection. More than 100,000 nursing home residents and staff have died from COVID-19 since April. As community spread has worsened and cases surged in the past few months, new deaths in long-term care facilities have trended upwards as well. We urge you to adapt lessons learned from states that have put in place successful, community-led strategies to protect the most vulnerable.”

“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. Reducing paperwork burdens and increasing the number of pharmacies available to provide vaccinations will help to save lives,” said Judy Hackler, Executive Director, Virginia Assisted Living Association.

“Tens of millions of seniors need to be immunized, and they must be immunized quickly. Independent community pharmacies have been serving these populations for decades, are trusted and nimble, and are willing to help in any way they can,” said B. Douglas Hoey, CEO, National Community Pharmacists Association. “Reps. Spanberger and McKinley are exactly right in pushing for a community pharmacist-led approach, which is demonstrably successful in those states already engaging independent pharmacies in the process. We thank them for their support, and echo their call to action.”

The full letter text is below, and click here for a copy of the letter.

Dear Acting Secretary Cochran,

Congratulations on your appointment as Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services. We write on behalf of the thousands of our constituents who live, work, or have family members in long-term care facilities and nursing homes who need quick access to vaccines. We urge you to quickly implement lessons learned from states that have opted for a community pharmacist-led approach to reaching vulnerable populations.

Community pharmacists are integral parts of the communities they serve, especially in rural and underserved communities. 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.  

States that placed community pharmacists in leadership roles have seen a much faster distribution of the vaccine to priority populations. In many cases, community pharmacists have the flexibility to cut through red tape and reduce paperwork burdens for patients and their guardians. 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, by that same point, most other states had only just begun administering the first dose of the vaccine to nursing home residents.

The stakes could not be higher because nursing home residents are the most vulnerable to severe disease and death from coronavirus infection. More than 100,000 nursing home residents and staff have died from COVID-19 since April.  As community spread has worsened and cases surged in the past few months, new deaths in long-term care facilities have trended upwards as well. 

We urge you to adapt lessons learned from states that have put in place successful, community-led strategies to protect the most vulnerable. Thank you for your attention to his urgent matter.

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