Pharmacist and Chair of the Ontario Pharmacists Association
As the pharmacy model changes, pharmacists play a critical role in the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and the public’s overall immune health.
The pandemic has cast a spotlight on the unique expertise of pharmacy professionals. “I think this current situation has helped the public see the value we bring to the health care system and their daily lives, rather than just seeing us as people who put pills into bottles,” says Tim Brady, Chair of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.
During the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, pharmacy professionals played a key role in administering vaccines efficiently and effectively. As of August 2021, pharmacy professionals had administered over 3.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through Ontario pharmacies, and the number continues to grow. In the past, pharmacists didn’t have injection authority for all types of vaccines, though they’ve long had the training and desire for it. The pandemic has highlighted the significant role that pharmacy professionals play in the health care system and their ability to be versatile and to assist in a crisis. Additionally, it has shown the depth and breadth of pharmacists’ capabilities, not only in delivering immunizations but in supporting public immune health.
As the most accessible and flexible of all healthcare practitioners, our goal is to remove barriers.
Accessible and convenient
“As the most accessible and flexible of all health care practitioners, our goal is to remove the barriers that prevent people from getting vaccinated,” says Brady. “The ability for people to sit down and have a five-minute conversation with a knowledgeable professional in their own community to ask questions, and to have their fears dispelled or information clarified, is something we pharmacy professionals are well-situated to provide.”
Since pharmacists were granted authority to administer flu vaccines in 2012, yearly doses administered in pharmacies have been approximately one million. Last fall, Ontario pharmacists administered 1.8 million flu shots. Also, in December 2020, the government expanded pharmacists’ scope of practice to allow the administration of flu vaccines to patients two years of age and older (the age for flu administration by pharmacists was previously set to five years of age and older). As trusted health care providers, pharmacists can protect communities through immunization and educate patients.
“I think it’s just a natural progression when COVID-19 happened and I think it’s just the convenience factor, people trying to get injections and the ability of pharmacists to do so,” says Brady.
Pharmacists have the training and expertise to relieve the burden on a highly-stressed health care system. “People have always seen us as knowledgeable and trustworthy, but now with COVID-19, they see how convenient and accessible we are as well,” says Brady. Throughout the pandemic, pharmacies continued to operate and to assist patients while also navigating new responsibilities and the complexities of the pandemic.
Pharmacy has the capability to support vaccination campaigns
It’s important for pharmacy associations, foundations, and other professional bodies to align their messaging about immunization and to empower pharmacy professionals through advocating for government regulations to better protect the public. The Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy has raised millions of dollars for pharmacy research since its establishment in 1945. It has helped make the case for pharmacist immunizations and other important issues such as prescribing for minor ailments, and current projects explore the pharmacist’s role in mental health, medical cannabis, and virtual care.
The Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) has been advocating with the Ontario provincial government to leverage pharmacy to get more vaccination campaigns completed. “I think we’ve shown that we’ve been able to increase the rate of vaccinations by removing barriers,” says Brady. In Essex County alone, where Brady runs his pharmacy, 35,000 shots were administered in under three weeks by the end of March. “When you look at the number of independent pharmacies around, even if you do just 20 to 30 shots per day, that gets into the thousands when you add them up,” he says.
The OPA advocates on behalf of pharmacy professionals for the government to implement policies and regulations that protect all Ontarians and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our health care system. “At the end of the day, our focus is on the patients and the people of Ontario and what’s best for them, and we think that we can be part of that solution,” says Brady.
This article was supported by the Ontario Pharmacists Association & the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy.