Saul Anuzis: Allowing pharmacies to administer vaccines is smart policy

Though it feels like we have been living under the threat of COVID forever, the three-year federal Public Health Emergency declaration recently came to an end. Yet even as we celebrate this accomplishment, it’s important to recognize the threat of COVID and other communicable diseases has not gone away.

Fortunately for North Carolinians, access to COVID vaccines and treatments will remain for now. To help maintain the steady decline of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the government will continue to provide COVID vaccines and treatments to eligible Americans at no cost, and they will be covered by Medicaid and Medicare until September 2024.

The ability to easily get vaccinated for COVID and other illnesses at your local pharmacy is another positive development that North Carolinians won’t be losing either.

The General Assembly recently worked together to pass legislation, signed by Gov. Roy Cooper into law, which allows pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to administer any CDC- or FDA-approved vaccines — such as those for tetanus or hepatitis — to North Carolinians ages 18 and older. The new law also allows pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to keep administering COVID and flu vaccines to those under 18 with parental consent.

We know that North Carolinians are increasingly turning to pharmacies to get more than just COVID vaccines or their annual flu shots. North Carolina pharmacies were empowered throughout the pandemic to help patients get the care they need. Keeping, and even expanding, the ability for pharmacies to provide vaccinations, treatments and preventative care is a smart pandemic policy that should remain.

The facts are clear. Nine out of 10 Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy. That means many North Carolinians, especially those who live in more rural areas or far away from a doctor’s office or hospital, benefit from being able to receive vaccines and other health care treatments at their local pharmacy. Pharmacies often have more flexible office hours, are open on weekends, and are the medical service North Carolinians see the most throughout the year.

Making vaccines readily available — and conveniently located close to where people are each day — can only help get more of North Carolinians vaccinated. The same is true for the ability to get treatments easily at the pharmacy. We’ve seen throughout the last several years of the COVID pandemic that the best way to get people both vaccines and treatments is to go to them. When people get vaccinated and treated quickly, they get better quickly — and are less likely to pass viruses onto others.

North Carolina should stay on the path to improving health care access. Empowering pharmacy providers to test and prescribe treatment for communicable diseases like the flu, strep throat, and RSV is a good next step to keep the state healthy.

I thank North Carolina lawmakers and Gov. Cooper for prioritizing smart public health initiatives. We don’t know when or if there will be another pandemic, but if there is, North Carolinians will be better protected. Let’s continue to make access to health care more readily available and meet patients where they are.

Saul Anuzis is president of 60 Plus Association, the American Association of Senior Citizens, a nonprofit advocacy group based in the Washington, D.C. area.