HELENA — Montana pharmacies said Wednesday they’re increasingly on the front lines, when it comes to providing vaccines and testing during a new surge of Covid-19 – and that a reinstated rule will help them fill that need.
“We are again seeing an increase in demand, as the Covid cases climb,” Billings pharmacist Kristi Monson told a legislative committee. “Meanwhile, other providers, like health departments, are reducing the vaccine and testing offering, eventually leaving pharmacies as the primary safety-net to fill the gap.”
Monson and representatives of drug stores and pharmacies spoke to the Interim Economic Affairs Committee, which was reviewing an emergency rule issued last week by the state Board of Pharmacy.
The rule allows pharmacists to supervise more than four pharmacy technicians, as well as other health-care professionals, such as nurses, in dispensing vaccines.
A similar emergency rule had expired in June, when Gov. Greg Gianforte ended his state-of-emergency order on Covid-19.
The governor’s office said this week it supported the action taken by the Board of Pharmacy, to reinstate the rule in the face of another surge of Covid-19 infections.
On Wednesday, 1,326 new Covid-19 cases were reported in Montana – one of the highest one-day totals in the state for the entire pandemic.
Pharmacists and their representatives said Wednesday the emergency rule, which expires in four months, enables them to meet an increasing demand for vaccines – both for Covid-19 and other diseases, like the flu.
Kimberly Walz, representing Walgreens, said the initial rule, issued in March, allowed the drug-store chain to double its capacity for Covid-19 vaccines and testing in the spring, and provide off-site clinics for vaccines at long-term care facilities and elsewhere.
“However, there is more work to be done,” she said. “Now that third doses have been approved for the immuno-compromised, and federal approval is most likely for booster shots … it is imperative that we have the staff flexibility to meet what would be an increased demand for Covid-19 vaccines on top of testing and flu vaccines.”
Marcie Bough, executive director of the state Board of Pharmacy, said it plans to meet Friday to decide how many additional pharmacy technicians can be supervised by a pharmacist.
Stuart Doggett of the Montana Pharmacy Association told the clinic that while booster shots for Covid-19 are becoming available, and demand for initial shots climbs, many of the larger sites that offered Covid-19 vaccines in the spring have either shut down or reduced their staff.
“This will lead to a larger workload and burden on those local pharmacies in your local communities, and their staffs,” he said.
Pharmacies also are facing a labor shortage, Doggett added, and the rule allows them to supervise more people who can step in to help administer vaccines.
The committee took no action on the rule, which mean it will stand for 120 days.