As we commemorate World Immunization Week, April 24 – 30, 2021, we recognize pharmacists for their contributions to the mass COVID-19 vaccination efforts underway across the country.
World Immunization Week aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. Immunization is widely recognized as one of the world’s most effective health interventions. As part of the World Immunization Week 2021, themed “Vaccines bring us closer,” the World Health Organization and other partners have joined together to:
- Increase trust and confidence in vaccines to maintain or increase vaccine acceptance
- Increase investment in vaccines, including routine immunization, to remove barriers to access
While the focus in recent months has been on new and emerging COVID-19 vaccines, there’s also a need to ensure routine vaccinations are not missed. As the pandemic unfolded, many people postponed preventive healthcare appointments, resulting in many children not receiving immunizations against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and polio.
“When quarantining went into effect in March 2020,” says Jennifer Seagle, Pharm.D., BCPS, CompleteRx area clinical manager, “people weren’t going in for routine visits because they were asked not to. There has been some fear about whether it’s safe to go into the doctor’s office. So, I do think we’re behind on childhood immunizations, but people are starting to feel a greater degree of comfort about going to medical appointments again.”
Pharmacists – a trusted source of vaccine information
Vaccination remains an important tool to protect individuals from COVID-19 and other diseases. However, the volume of new information coming out about COVID-19 vaccines almost daily makes it difficult to stay up-to-date and know which sources can be trusted. Vaccine hesitancy is also a barrier to uptake, from concerns around the speed of COVID-19 vaccine development to fears about potential adverse events, such as the recent complications related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Seagle encourages individuals to talk to their pharmacists about vaccine questions and concerns. “Pharmacists are a very reliable source of vaccine information, including the risks and benefits and potential adverse events” she notes. “We hope people will continue to rely on us for that type of information, because that’s where we really shine.”
On the frontline of vaccine administration
In addition to being reliable sources of medication information, tens of thousands of pharmacists across the country have been specifically trained to administer COVID-19 vaccines. Provider status for pharmacists has been advancing for some time, with pharmacists providing an increasing number of patient care services, including immunizations and testing. COVID-19 has accelerated opportunities for pharmacists to contribute more directly to patient care.
“We have been vaccinating for a while now, but we haven’t seen this kind of volume ever in our careers,” adds Seagle. “Hospital outpatient centers are such great locations for mass vaccination sites. We’re seeing a shift in their clinical duties to running these vaccine clinics and doing it very effectively.”
The sheer demand for COVID-19 vaccinations has resulted in significant changes to pharmacists’ workflows, requiring them to balance their regular workload with the need to support the vaccination effort. Pharmacy technicians, residents, and interns have also been instrumental in supporting COVID-19 vaccination needs. Following the federal government’s expansion of pharmacy technicians’ authority during the pandemic, thousands have completed immunization training programs to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
“It’s really rather amazing to think about the sheer number of healthcare professionals we need to get everyone immunized,” says Seagle. She believes this is only the beginning of pharmacy professionals’ involvement in vaccinations, as the country faces the likely possibility of needing additional COVID-19 vaccine booster doses or yearly vaccines to keep the public safe. As the country moves into the COVID-19 recovery phase, Seagle recommends hospitals and health systems keep pharmacy involved in those strategic planning discussions.
This World Immunization Week, CompleteRx applauds its pharmacy professionals for their ongoing contributions throughout the pandemic and beyond. We appreciate all that you do!