Pharmacists Answer the Call for COVID-19 Vaccine Administration

Over 250 pharmacies in West Virginia have answered the call to provide COVID-19 vaccine to West Virginians in long term care, hospitals, and community locations.  This news is not surprising for many with pharmacists from across the country awaiting shipments and preparing for the demand by ordering additional supplies, making accommodations in their locations, and anticipating staffing needs.  Touted as healthcare’s most accessible professional, it is also not surprising that when Governor Jim Justice received his immunization live on television for the entire state to see, a pharmacist was readily available with vaccine, a sticker, and a smile.

That pharmacist is Krista Capehart, PharmD, MS Pharm, BCACP, AE-C.  When she is not administering COVID vaccine to the governor, she is wearing lot of hats for pharmacy and patient care in the state of West Virginia.  An Associate Professor at WVU School of Pharmacy, she is also the Director of Professional and Regulatory Affairs at the WV Board of Pharmacy.  She has been an integral part of the state vaccine delivery plan helping to coordinate logistics throughout the 1.79 million people in West Virginia to give everyone the opportunity to receive while addressing the most high-risk patients first.

“Utilizing 16 local pharmacies throughout West Virginia, pharmacists and student pharmacists distributed and administered nearly 5,500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in 3 days to residents and staff in more than 40 nursing home and long term care facilities, protecting health care workers and our most vulnerable patients”, commented Capehart.

When the time came after an important emergency use authorization from the FDA, pharmacists around the state stepped up to be key players in delivery to our state, and as more doses become available and rollout moves to community pharmacies, thousands of pharmacists around the state will be ready to help keep West Virginia safe.  After one week of COVID-19 vaccine being coordinated by Capehart, the West Virginia Health Care Association, and the National Guard, the state of West Virginia leads the country administering over -19 immunizations to long term care patients.  The next highest state has administered 60.  That is not a typo, and it’s because of the willingness of our pharmacists to answer the call throughout the state.  WV also leads the country in total vaccine administration rate, delivering 91.3% of the allocated 16,575 doses in WV.  Currently, there are pharmacists waiting to help as vaccine becomes more readily available.

Pharmacists did not receive the authorization to administer flu immunizations until 2010 in all 50 states, and West Virginia was among the last dozen states to give pharmacists the ability in 2009.  Since then, pharmacists have proven their value to the healthcare system by educating patients and being among the most accessible healthcare professionals to meet patient needs conveniently.  Since 2009, West Virginia has continued to give authorization for more immunizations to licensed pharmacists with appropriate training; most notably in 2020, West Virginia gave the authority for pharmacists to administer all Center for Disease Control/Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (CDC/ACIP)-recommended vaccines for anyone 18 years of age or older and 11-17 years old with a prescription.  As pharmacists play a larger role in vaccine delivery, immunization rates increase. 

Associate Professor Gretchen Garofoli immunizes Clinical Assistant Professor Heather Johnson in preparation for their administration of COVID-19 vaccines in long term care facilities. Garofoli and Johnson are just two of the many pharmacists responsible for the state’s nation-leading response.

However, in August 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued an Amendment to Declaration under the PREP Act for an emergency rule allowing pharmacists across the country to immunize starting at three years of age.  The determination was due to a decrease in vaccination rates in the first few months of the pandemic as many pediatricians and medical offices were trying to limit unnecessary exposure. 

This evolution of vaccine administration in West Virginia is largely due to the willingness of pharmacists to be at the frontlines of patient care.  This increase in responsibility has proven to be a challenge for pharmacies experiencing decreases in reimbursement due to pharmacy benefit managers and consequently decreases in staffing. Nonetheless, pharmacists, interns, and pharmacy technicians continue to meet the needs of patients throughout the Mountain State. 

“It was an amazing experience to be able to administer some of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to patients and staff at the long term care center in West Virginia where the first positive case in a long term care patient occurred in March 2020.  Patients and staff at the facilities have been so appreciative of our efforts and it has by far been the most gratifying experience in my pharmacy career”, commented Gretchen Garofoli, Associate Professor, WVU School of Pharmacy

One might read this and wonder how we could have a successful COVID-19 vaccine strategy without pharmacists.  The profession of pharmacy has been training and preparing for this hypothetical day that became very real back in early 2020.  Pharmacists are here to stay to make sure COVID-19 does not.