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COVID-19 Vaccines Will be Available at Your Local Pharmacy

pharmacist administers vaccines
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Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance allowing licensed and registered pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 vaccine(s) approved or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • The decision will improve access and make it more convenient for people to be vaccinated.
  • Pharmacists are able to administer several other vaccines (such as the flu shot), so this decision, issued under an emergency time act, will be an extension of what pharmacists already do. 

People will be able to receive approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccines at their local pharmacy as doses become widely available. This includes the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that were authorized in December for emergency use.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance on September 9 expanding access to COVID-19 vaccine(s). This decision was possible as part of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act), which provides additional protection during a public health emergency.

“This action builds upon our administration’s progress toward delivering a safe, effective, and widely-available vaccine by 2020,” Admiral Brett P. Giroir, MD, assistant secretary for health, said in a press release. “Allowing pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 vaccines will greatly expand convenient access for the American people.”

State-licensed pharmacists and qualified pharmacy interns acting under the supervision of licensed pharmacists will qualify as “covered persons” under the PREP Act. They will be able to order and administer COVID-19 vaccines to people ages 3 or older (if a vaccine is approved or authorized for children).

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for people ages 16 and older and the Moderna vaccine is authorized for those 18 and older. No vaccines are yet authorized for children under 16, and they may not be made available until more studies are done.

For years, pharmacists have been an integral part in helping administer vaccines to the community, Mitchel Rothholz, RPh, MBA, chief of governance and state affiliates at the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), tells Verywell. Because of the PREP Act, pharmacists were also able to administer vaccines for the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

“Pharmacists are educated and knowledgeable about vaccines across the lifespan and are a source of information and healthcare delivery for the public,” Rothholz says. “People should feel comfortable having those discussions with their pharmacists.”

What This Means For You

When a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, you will be able to get immunized by your local pharmacist. In the meantime, make sure you are up to date on all your immunizations, many of which can be given by your pharmacist, including your flu shot.

A Pharmacist's Role in Vaccination

Current standards for pharmacy school education include being trained on immunization administration, Rothholz says. More than 360,000 pharmacists have also been trained by the APhA on how to administer vaccines across the lifespan—to children, adolescents, and adults.

“We are an existing and an accessible health care practitioner for the public, and especially [during this pandemic], access is an important part,” Rothholz says. “Having a trusting relationship with your healthcare providers is something that pharmacists already have in place.”

Most states permit pharmacists to order and administer many immunizations to both adults and children.

According to a 2020 survey from the APha and National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associates, these include vaccines for:

In the early 2018-2019 flu season, pharmacists administered the influenza vaccine to nearly one-third of all adults who received the vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Rothholz says it’s important for patients to call their pharmacists to talk through any concerns or health questions they have, COVID-19 or otherwise. One way patients can help themselves while waiting for COVID-19 vaccines is to make sure they are up to date on their recommended vaccinations.

This year, health experts agree it’s particularly important to get a flu vaccine if you can. Like SARS-CoV-2, the flu is a contagious respiratory virus. Because some of the symptoms are similar, it can be difficult to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. Getting a flu vaccine is one way to reduce the likelihood of catching the flu, or at least reduce the severity of symptoms, Rothholz says. 

Pharmacies Remain Accessible During COVID-19

Rothholz says all healthcare providers, from those in the hospitals to pharmacies, have gone above and beyond the CDC’s guidelines to ensure health care services are available during this time while also protecting patients and healthcare personnel.

“Pharmacies have been there on the front lines, have gone over and above to make sure their patients are cared for even at their own risk of exposure, and they have been there and will [continue to] be there for their communities,” he says. “Not only are we dealing with COVID-19-related issues, we are also trying to maintain continuity of care for patients with acute and chronic needs.”

Making COVID-19 vaccines available at local pharmacies will widely increase accessibility for the population. Patients see their pharmacists on a regular basis and often have relationships with them.

This places pharmacists in a unique position to educate and help increase immunization rates, especially because many pharmacies are open beyond standard business hours and are not far from patients’ homes. 

Nearly all Americans (91.7%) live within five miles of a community retail pharmacy, according to a report from The National Association of Chain Drug Stores. This is particularly important in regions that are medically underserved or have few healthcare providers.

What's Next for the COVID-19 Vaccine

The CDC's COVID-19 Vaccination Program has a playbook for distributing the vaccines. It begins with phase one for healthcare workers and then moves to essential workers and people at high risk, including those over age 65. Once a large number of doses are made available, it moves to phase two and the vaccine will be made available to the general public, including distribution to doctor's offices, clinics, and pharmacies.

Exactly when the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use will be distributed to pharmacies in 2021 is still unknown, but it is estimated to be by the spring.

Both of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use are novel mRNA vaccines that carry genetic instructions for our immune cells to make part of a protein that triggers an immune response to COVID-19. The dosage schedule for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is two injections that are separated by three weeks, and the Moderna vaccine is to be given in two injections that are four weeks apart.

These vaccines require cold temperatures and need to be transported in freezers. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine needs to be kept ultra cold at -112 to -76 degrees F (-80 to -60 degrees C), which requires specialized freezers and dry ice. After thawing, it can be kept in a fridge for five days and at room temperature for two hours.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine can be transported in standard freezers at temperatures of -13 to 5 degrees F (-25 to -15 degrees C) and then is stable in a fridge for 30 days and at room temperature for 12 hours.

The federal government has contracts with Moderna and Pfizer to offer the COVID-19 vaccines to people in the U.S for free. However, vaccine providers may charge an administration fee that can be reimbursed through insurance or through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund for those who are uninsured.

Manufacturers have ramped up production of vials, syringes, and supplies in an effort to avoid the shortages experienced when a vaccine for the novel H1N1 influenza virus first became available. Rothholz says the persistent challenges for widespread immunization are having adequate personal protection equipment and enough manpower. 

“I think the public needs to understand that for the COVID-19 vaccine, we won’t have all that supply coming out the gate,” Rothholz says. “There is going to be some prioritization for those who are at higher risk to get vaccinated first. There will probably be a phasing in as supply becomes more available. As other vaccines are approved, that will get better over time. It’s going to be over several months before we get the whole population at once vaccinated."

But with time and patience, Rothholz says, people can expect vaccines to be made available to the greater community with the help of their local pharmacists.

“Like we’ve shown in the past with H1N1 and other vaccines, when it’s available, we will make sure people get it and have access to it as we get access to it,” he says.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. Food and Drug Administration. Trump administration takes action to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines. Updated September 9, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Guidance for licensed pharmacists and pharmacy interns regarding COVID-19 vaccines and immunity under the PREP Act. Updated September 3, 2020.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination. Updated December 18, 2020.

  4. Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. Updated December 2011.

  5. APhA. APhA urges Congress to authorize pharmacists’ COVID testing and immunization services under Medicare in next pandemic bill. Updated July 24, 2020.

  6. American Pharmacists Association. Pharmacist-administered vaccines. Updated June 2020.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early-season flu vaccination coverage–United States, November 2018. Updated December 14, 2018.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19​. Updated October 6, 2020.

  9. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Statement of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores for United States Senate Committee on Finance on the President’s fiscal year 2020 budget. Updated March 14, 2019.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccination program interim playbook for jurisdiction operations. Updated October 29, 2020.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Updated December 16, 2020.

  12. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Fact sheet for healthcare providers administering vaccine (vaccination providers): Emergency use authorization (EUA) of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Updated December 2020.