Op-Ed by Don Kupper, President of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association
Over the years, the health care field has encountered its fair share of significant challenges. Perhaps most notable have been the major outbreaks of infectious diseases, much like we are facing now. While these terrible events are deadly and disruptive to our society, they also force us to rethink how we deliver care and often lead to significant medical breakthroughs.
Through it all, pharmacists have been proud to stand alongside their fellow providers with their lights on and doors open. Even as we work on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic today, our commitment has not wavered.
Pharmacists will also be instrumental in helping our Commonwealth move past this pandemic—thanks, in part, to some outstanding forethought from Kentucky’s elected leaders.
As scientists are working around the clock to develop a safe and effective immunization against COVID-19, Kentucky’s pharmacists will be gearing up to help safely administer it to our patients across the Commonwealth. This will help put Kentucky ahead of the curve once again in dealing with this pandemic.
The American Disease Preventions Council is calling on states to ensure pharmacists are permitted to provide and administer all approved immunizations. Fortunately, Kentucky’s elected officials were thinking ahead when they adopted protocols allowing pharmacists to administer any FDA-approved vaccination back in 2004. This means that once a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed and approved, we won’t have to waste valuable time amending state regulations. Instead, Kentucky pharmacists will be able to join other medical professionals in giving this life-saving immunization. In short, more Kentuckians will be able to access this life-saving vaccine more quickly.
With our ability to administer immunizations, pharmacists play a critical role in flattening the curve of public health emergencies. A 2018 study by Johns Hopkins University examining the use of pharmacies in administering flu vaccines during a flu epidemic found that the practice could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. The same logic can be applied to the outbreak we face today.
Without pharmacists on the frontlines to administer immunizations, we risk losing out on the many hours of research and hard work and millions of dollars that go into developing a new vaccine—simply because hospitals and clinics do not have capacity to vaccinate all eligible Kentuckians while continuing to treat and care for patients in need.
Kentucky’s pharmacy community also received much needed help this year from the General Assembly with the passage of Senate Bill 50. Thanks to this legislation, pharmacists are facing fewer challenges when it comes to doing their jobs, at a time when they are needed most. SB 50, recently signed into law by Gov. Beshear, creates a more transparent, streamlined and cost-effective system for delivering prescription medications to some of our most vulnerable. The bill reins in the bad actions of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to benefit patients, providers and taxpayers alike.
PBMs have a long track record of profiting at the expense of Kentuckians, and the protections afforded to pharmacists and our patients under the new law will ensure more of our pharmacies can stay open for business—something that is critically important, now more than ever, as we work to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in communities across the state.
During these uncertain times, Kentucky pharmacists are here for you. Our lights are still on, and our doors remain open. And, when a vaccine is available—and we are confident one will be—we’ll stand ready to answer the call of administering the life-saving immunization to as many of our community members as possible.
Don Kupper is a third-generation pharmacist who has been practicing for 39 years as a local consultant and long-term care pharmacist. He also serves as President of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association.