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Mike Millard is a professor emeritus at Pacific University's School of Pharmacy and past president of the Oregon Society of Health-system Pharmacists.

Mike MillardPharmacies are proving themselves more important than ever in meeting critical, in-person health care needs for people across Oregon.

In March, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched its Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. The initiative is leveraging more than 40,000 pharmacies across the nation to help reach the millions of Americans in need of COVID vaccinations.

Here in Oregon hundreds of pharmacies are already providing doses of the vaccine to thousands each week. With more than 8,800 licensed pharmacists in communities across the state, pharmacists and retail pharmacies are on the front lines of supporting the health needs of people throughout Oregon. Each year we're becoming a more and more important partner in inoculating against vaccine preventable diseases.

Pharmacists have increasingly become the vaccination experts within their communities and local health systems. During the influenza outbreak in 2013, 4.1 million adults were vaccinated because of pharmacists' efforts. Those vaccinations contributed to 81,000 to 134,000 fewer influenza infections among adults that year.

Additionally, pharmacists are often some of the most accessible health care providers, close to where people live, open extended hours, and are generally available without an appointment. In fact, nine out of 10 Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy.

COVID-19 has also demonstrated that pharmacists are essential with pharmacies remaining one of the few businesses left easily accessible and able to meet critical health needs of our communities. Most importantly, many are open the hours that patients covet. A 2016 study found that one-third of pharmacy administered vaccinations took place in the evening or on weekends while 17.5% were administered during the lunch hour.

Nearly all pharmacists are trained to administer vaccines under CDC's national immunization standards. Doctor of Pharmacy programs require certifications as part of their education. While Oregon pharmacists have the authority to administer some vaccines, action is needed to ensure that our local pharmacies can be leveraged to offer more vaccination services to local patients.

The American Disease and Prevention Coalition is standing up to this pressing and overdue gap in our health care system and calling all states to ensure that pharmacists are able to provide and administer all recommended vaccines by the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices or the U.S Food and Drug Administration.

The solution is to allow pharmacists to autonomously order and administer any vaccine approved by the FDA and ACIP. Pharmacists throughout the United States have proven that they can responsibly recommend and administer any vaccine and that this accessibility has greatly benefited people in their communities.

Pharmacists have never been more important in delivering in-person healthcare needs. It is vital for our nation to grant authority to pharmacists in all states, so they can administer and provide FDA or ACIP-approved vaccines. While this pandemic will undoubtedly leave an imprint in our health care system, it calls for fundamental changes in policies that we've never done before. We need to clear the path for Americans to quickly access immunization — our lives depend on it.

Mike Millard is a professor emeritus at Pacific University's School of Pharmacy and past president of the Oregon Society of Health-system Pharmacists.

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