Our Pharmacists Can Help Get Us All Back to Work

Media Coverage | April 20, 2020

This article was originally published on NJ.com.

Medical experts and government leaders agree that to fight the spread of the coronavirus and speed the time when the economy can reopen, effective, widespread and sustained testing is essential.

Gov. Phil Murphy has said, “In order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and manage our health care resources and personal protective equipment supply, we need to implement more aggressive testing techniques.” New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli has added, “Rapid testing will help provide more real-time data on the impact of COVID-19 in our state.” New York State Governor Cuomo has also urged, “The key to reopening is going to be testing. Testing of antibodies, testing for diagnostic results – and testing on a scale that we have not done before.”

Ready access to rapid diagnostic tests for all symptomatic cases or those with reasonable suspicion of COVID-19 exposure, and widespread serological testing to understand underlying rates of infection and to identify those who have developed immunity and could potentially return to work or school without fear of becoming infected, are the foundation for the National Plan to Enable Comprehensive COVID-19 Case Finding and Contact Tracing in the U.S. issued last week by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Tuesday morning, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said serological tests looking for the antibodies in a person’s blood that the immune system makes in response to an infection may help accelerate some reopening of the economy and give people confidence that they can return to work. It may also benefit patients in the fall or winter when another wave of the disease is expected.

And a few days ago, Vice President Biden said the nation should "scale up a second form of testing: rapid serology tests to tell who has already been infected with the coronavirus and has antibodies.”

Now, it’s time to help our nation’s pharmacists join this fight.

On April 8, Health and Human Services Secretary Azar said, “Giving pharmacists the authorization to order and administer COVID-19 tests to their patients means easier access to testing for Americans who need it.”

As a result, HHS has authorized licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 tests to their patients. HHS recognizes that the accessibility and distribution of retail and independent community-based pharmacies make pharmacists the first point of contact with a healthcare professional for many Americans, and this authorization will further expand testing for Americans, particularly healthcare workers and first responders.

Pharmacies will open tens of thousands of professional healthcare testing destinations throughout the United States. And the testing itself will be a welcome small business stimulus by providing income and jobs to independent and community pharmacists and their employees during this crisis.

The FDA has drafted a policy for the testing that includes a key provision that the agency won’t object to the development and distribution of a test by commercial manufacturers or development and use of one by laboratories. The tests that comply with the FDA’s policy are simple finger-prick serology tests to identify antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 that produce results within minutes. They are not tests of high complexity.

These actions are needed right away:

  • Enlisting pharmacists to administer rapid serological tests should become a cornerstone of the Northeastern Governors’ plan to reopen our states. Governor Murphy and the Board of Pharmacy can lead the way on this critical point.
  • President Trump should encourage the governors and Boards of Pharmacy of every State to follow the lead of his own Health and Human Services Secretary and authorize their licensed pharmacists to order and administer the point of care rapid serology tests.
  • New Jersey’s Department of Health administers the federal CLIA (the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment) program that monitors laboratory facilities. Expediting CLIA application processing by the NJDOH will be needed to bring the tests and their results on board as soon as possible.
  • Finally, from a public health perspective, assuring that all New Jersey residents will be able to be tested and retested without charge is crucial to motivating residents without medical insurance to participate in the testing regime – and each person’s participation will benefit everyone. Governor Murphy should work with Medicare and the health insurance companies who serve New Jersey to guarantee that nobody will have to pay for their test.

Medical facilities, their heroic medical and healthcare workers and first responders are already strained beyond capacity. Professionally trained and licensed pharmacists are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Give them the tools to join the fight.

Click here to read the article on NJ.com.