The U.S. federal government, under the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, has given licensed pharmacists authorization to order and administer U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved COVID-19 tests. Some community pharmacies have begun offering the testing in Nebraska.
In the midst of a pandemic it's a step forward for public health -- and an enormous point of pride for the UNMC College of Pharmacy, which has driven the national conversation regarding the evolving role of pharmacists in point-of-care testing and other patient-centered health care measures.
"We have been training pharmacists to do this type of testing for years," said Donald Klepser, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacy practice and science.
UNMC, in collaboration with Ferris State (Mich.) University (see sidebar), and backed by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, developed testing and training protocols that eventually were adopted across much of the country. Thanks to the UNMC College of Pharmacy, many community pharmacists in the U.S. can now test patients for flu, strep, and, in Flint, Mich., for levels of lead.
Now, pharmacists will administer COVID-19 tests, as well.
In making the announcement, Brett Giroir, M.D., HHS assistant secretary for health, echoed a point Dr. Klepser and Ally Dering-Anderson, Pharm.D., clinical associate professor of pharmacy practice and science, have been making for years.
"The accessibility and distribution of retail and independent community-based pharmacies make pharmacists the first point of contact with a health care professional for many Americans," Dr. Giroir said. "This will further expand testing for Americans, particularly our health care workers and first responders who are working around the clock to provide care, compassion and safety to others."
"It is exciting to think that many if not most of the pharmacists testing for COVID-19 will have been trained using a program developed in part by UNMC faculty," Dr. Klepser said.
That's true for UNMC alumnus Jose Guerrero, Pharm.D., manager at U-Save Pharmacy 4th Street in Grand Island, who underwent training to participate in a College of Pharmacy hepatitis study. "That's where my interest in point-of-care testing started. I think it's a great service that pharmacies can provide."
HHS Sec. Alex Azar added: "Giving pharmacists the authorization to order and administer COVID-19 tests to their patients means easier access to testing for Americans who need it. Pharmacists play a vital role in delivering convenient access to important public health services and information. (We are) pleased to give pharmacists the chance to play a bigger role in the COVID-19 response, alongside all of America's heroic health care workers."
That was always part of the plan, Dr. Klepser said.
"We started training pharmacists as a result of the H1N1 crisis so that they would be ready when the next pandemic hit," he said.
Please call your local community pharmacy to see if COVID-19 testing is available at that location before coming in. Results will be reported to state and local health departments.