Staffing shortage could be hindering controversial Paxlovid clearance

When the FDA declared pharmacists could prescribe Pfizer's antiviral treatment directly to patients in early July, it caused a flurry of mixed reactions among the healthcare industry. The widespread staffing shortage could be halting the process, though. 

On July 6, the FDA said any state-licensed pharmacist could prescribe and hand out Paxlovid, a two-drug regimen that's intended to alleviate symptoms among those at high risk for COVID-19. AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., MD, quickly rebuked the decision, arguing that prescribing the drug is "far beyond a pharmacist's scope and training." 

In the wake of the news, some pharmacists clarified their job roles. James Mitchell, a pharmacy owner in Newport News, Va., told the local TV station the ability to diagnose patients is a "new boundary."

"I was not trained as a diagnostician, I'm trained as a dispenser. There is a difference," Mr. Mitchell said.

On the other side, pharmaceutical organizations, such as the American Pharmacists Association, applauded the FDA and said the choice could be a "game changer" for health equity efforts.

Even if pharmacies wanted to deliver more Paxlovid packets, though, some might not be able to handle the load. 

"They are already stretched thin," Lauren Bode, PharmD, the executive director of the Vermont Pharmacists Association, told WABI-5, a CBS affiliate in Bangor, Maine. "I think there are very few pharmacies that would be able to absorb this work load without the reimbursement that would enable them to bring in the additional staff to cover these services."

Three out of 4 pharmacists said they didn't have enough time to "safely perform patient care and clinical duties," according to a study published in May that asked nearly 7,000 pharmacy workers about their 2021 workplace environment.


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