HHS extends some COVID-19 flexibilities for pharmacy workers

HHS is planning to extend certain flexibilities and liability protections for pharmacy workers under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act until December 2024, the agency said April 14.

The extension will allow pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy students to continue ordering and dispensing COVID-19 tests and therapeutics distributed by the federal government, as well as administer COVID-19 and flu vaccines for people ages 3 and up. Pharmacy workers will have immunity from liability for these services through December 2024.

Once COVID-19 vaccines are commercialized, vaccination by nontraditional providers, such as recently retired providers and students, will no longer be allowed. Clinicians and pharmacists will also no longer be allowed to give vaccinations across state lines, HHS said.

In addition, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and students under a pharmacists' supervision will not be allowed to give routine childhood immunizations once the public health emergency ends.

"ASHP appreciates HHS' recognition of the key role the pharmacy workforce plays in protecting our nation's public health," Tom Kraus, vice president of government relations for American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, said April 14. "We look forward to continuing to work with them through the public health emergency wind down, and into the future, to empower pharmacists to better serve our patients."

HHS first used the PREP act to allow pharmacists to give COVID-19 vaccines in early 2020. The rule was then amended in October 2020 to include pharmacy technicians and pharmacy interns. 

ASHP has since urged HHS to use the PREP Act to expand pharmacists' care services "beyond COVID-19" to "prescribing of hormonal contraceptives, ordering post-exposure emergency prophylaxis for HIV, providing access to medications for opioid use disorder and prescribing smoking cessation aids."

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