Enabling tens of millions of Americans to get themselves speedily vaccinated against COVID-19 will be a huge logistics challenge. A new policy brief from the Mercatus Center, a think tank at George Mason University, argues that we could greatly accelerate the process by removing the complex state regulations that prevent pharmacists from administering vaccines.
There's a good chance we'll need those vaccines to end the pandemic. Herd immunity is the resistance you get to the spread of a contagious disease when a sufficiently high proportion of a population is immune to the illness; you can reach it through either mass infection or mass vaccination.
Epidemiologists generally estimate that the COVID-19 threshold for herd immunity is around 60 to 70 percent. Some researchers believe the number may be much lower than that, but even then we aren't necessarily near the threshold: Recent testing of nearly 1 million American blood donors from June 15 to August 23 for COVID-19 antibodies finds that only 1.82 percent had them.
Blood donations aren't a random sample of the population, of course. But in congressional testimony earlier this week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) chief Robert Redfield noted that his agency "is in the process of a very large, sequential study across the entire United States" to measure the presence of antibodies to the novel coronavirus; the stufy will be finalized and likely "published in the next week or so." According to Redfield, "The preliminary results on the first round show that a majority of our nation—more than 90 percent of the population—remains susceptible" to the novel coronavirus.
So if mass infection isn't about the get us there, tens of millions of American will need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity against the virus. In congressional testimony earlier this week, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Anthony Fauci said that he believes that the U.S. will have produced enough doses of a coronavirus vaccine to distribute to every American by April.
But who will give us those shots? While most states already allow pharmacists to administer many vaccines, regulators have unnecessarily imposed a variety of age restrictions on which patients pharmacists may vaccinate and individual patient prescription requirements.
The Mercatus Center report recommends that state regulators relax age restrictions on pharmacist-administered vaccinations; issue statewide standing orders authorizing pharmacists to administer vaccines without requiring a physician-written prescription for each patient; and revise regulations, as Oregon has, to permit pharmacists to administer all of the vaccines recommended by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The latter recommendation "prevents lag in vaccine administration due to boards or legislatures having to approve individually named vaccines for pharmacist administration."
Herd immunity is a big goal. Now is the time to unleash America's 88,000 pharmacies and 314,000 pharmacists to reach it.