With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granting emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, immunizations have begun for high-risk patients and front-line workers across the United States. Administering the vaccine is an enormous task, and from the beginning various groups have vied for the right to participate.
For example, officials at the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) expected that independent pharmacies would be included in the effort, but NCPA staff took no chances. Months of correspondence between NCPA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ensued, and those talks have all but assured that community pharmacies will have access to the vaccines. “You could not have a successful COVID vaccination program without the participation of community pharmacies,” says John Beckner, RPh, NCPA senior director of Strategic Initiatives. “It would be disastrous.”
The nuts and bolts of vaccine storage could prove a bit difficult, but independent pharmacies are nimble and used to change. Pfizer’s vaccine, for example, must be kept at -70 Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit). “You can’t get that with a conventional freezer,” explains Hannah Fish, PharmD, NCPA associate director of Strategic Initiatives at NCPA. “Fortunately, Pfizer is shipping the vaccine in what resembles pizza boxes. The boxes can keep the vaccines cold by adding dry ice. It’s not prohibitive, but military precision is required. Independent pharmacies are up to the task.”
Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, M.D. (writing for the DoctorWeighsIn.com) contends that dentists should also be strongly considered for COVID-19 distribution. “Dentists administering vaccines during public health emergencies is not a groundbreaking idea,” writes Minter-Jordan. “It’s common sense. In fact, it’s been done in the past. Dentists in states like Massachusetts and New York were deputized as vaccinators during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009-10 . Other states like Illinois  and Minnesota  currently allow dentists to administer flu vaccines.”
According to Minter-Jordan, dentists are at risk of being overlooked in the vaccination effort. While CDC officials have not shown much enthusiasm, CMS seems mostly on board. Indeed, more than half of states are considering using dentists to vaccinate.
“That consideration shouldn’t take long,” Minter-Jordan writes. “Allowing dentists to perform a service that they are able and qualified to perform could increase the number of health care professionals administering the vaccine by the tens of thousands. This would expedite getting shots into arms. This is exactly what public health experts say will save lives and ultimately bring the pandemic to an end…We must recognize that to beat this virus we need all hands on deck.
Excluding these qualified providers may result in prolonging the crisis we are in…Let’s just hope public health leaders will let them.”