Role of Canadian Pharmacies in the COVID-19 Vaccination Process

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World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a pandemic on Mar. 11, 2020.1 The pandemic is ongoing and has caused substantial morbidity and death worldwide. The risk to Canadians remains high, with 191 732 publicly reported confirmed and probable cases in Canada as of Oct. 15, 2020.2 Immunization plays a vital role in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and the other such as infection prevention, social distancing and other public health measures. The Government of Canada is currently reviewing regulatory pathways to ensure rapid access to effective vaccines for Canadians without compromising vaccine safety. There are presently four vaccines approved by Health Canada to be administered in Canada: Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen.

Pharmacists with authorization to administer drugs by injection can significantly impact the fight against COVID-19 by using their skills to help with crucial tasks such as vaccine administration and education at designated Alberta Health Services (AHS) facilities.4

In Alberta, the COVID -19 vaccine is provided through a phased immunization program. In the first phase (starting in January), the province is offering immunizations to health care workers in intensive care units, respiratory therapists, paramedics, emergency medical responders, staff in long term care centers, seniors (75 years and above) and First Nations. In the second and third phases, which is currently scheduled to start on Wednesday, March 17, the province’s at-risk populations and the general populace will begin to receive their immunizations, continuing until the fall of this year.

Alberta Pharmacists’ Association is engaged with AHS to determine how pharmacists could support the vaccination program. Since community pharmacies are recognized for their proficiency with administering publicly-funded vaccines, such as influenza, they make logical partners in the province’s vaccination efforts. Currently, the COVID-19 vaccines are not listed among the vaccination that pharmacists can provide to patients under the province’s Pharmacy Act. As mentioned by Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacist Association (OPA), pharmacists can participate in the COVID-19 immunization program in that province’s second and third phases, where vaccination will be provided to home care patients and those with chronic conditions in the wider community.

Currently, Ontarian pharmacists are administering the vaccines in hospitals and some long-term care homes under medical directives. In Quebec, pharmacists and pharmacy students are authorized to administer the COVID-19 vaccines. Saskatchewan will also use pharmacists to deliver the vaccine during the vaccine’s widespread access phase in that province.

In Alberta, pharmacists could potentially be part of phase 2 immunization to provide vaccines to specific groups, including people at-risk populations in the wider community, such as seniors 75 years old or older and First Nations communities. A fee of $ 13.50 per dose is also being discussed by the OPA and other provincial pharmacy associations across Canada. Efforts are being made to make a more consistent fee for providing the COVID-19 vaccines.

The future involvement of pharmacists in COVID-19 immunization would help reduce the spread and control of COVID-19 and expand the scope of practice of pharmacists in Canada, for the benefit of vulnerable populations across this country.

References

  1. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): situation report – 51. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020 Mar. 11. Available: www.who.int/docs/default-source/ coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200311-sitrep-51-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=1ba62e57 _10 (accessed 2020 July 11).
  2. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): outbreak update. Ottawa: Government of Canada; modified 2020 Sept. 13. Available: www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/ diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html (accessed 2020 Oct. 15).
  3. Federal/provincial/territorial public health response plan for ongoing management of COVID-19. Ottawa: Government of Canada; modified 2020 Aug. 25. Available:www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/guidance-documents/federal provincial-territorial-public -health-response-plan-ongoing-management-covid-19.html (accessed 2020 Aug. 26).
  4. Alberta College of Pharmacy (2020). Pharmacists needed to administer COVID-19 vaccine. AHS is recruiting pharmacists with authorization to administer drugs by injection.
  5. COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Retrieved from: https://www.alberta.ca/covid19-vaccine.aspx
  6. Taggart, K. (2021). Canadian pharmacists eager to administer COVID-19 vaccines in early stages of rollout. Canadian Healthcare Network.
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