Opinion Piece: Rao Vadlamudi
World Immunisation Week: 24 - 30 April 2021
Gearing up Indian Pharmacists for COVID-19 Vaccination Programmes
Pharmacists are crucial to a successful mass vaccination programme. In developed nations, they are authorised and trained to administer vaccines, however, the situation is quite different in less developed as well as low and middle-income countries like India. In various regions worldwide, pharmacist involvement is limited only to stocking and supplying vaccines against a prescription, they are not duly authorised to administer them. In this hour which requires unrivalled humanity to save lives we should work harder to utilise these key healthcare workers in all aspects of the vaccination rollouts. In an effort to achieve this, some organisations like the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) have created empowering programmes such as their recent digital event which was held under the title of Transforming Vaccination Globally and Regionally (TVGR) in addition, recognising educational gaps the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association (CPA) have worked extensively with partner Pharmacy Associations in the Commonwealth regions to deliver programmes to pharmacists and further have started developing CPD courses that are accessible online.
Pharmacists should be equipped to manage the supply, cold-chain storage, and waste disposal of vaccines. Further to this, they should be:
- Adequately trained
- Skilled to administer vaccines by all routes
- Qualified to identify, monitor, and manage vaccine-related adverse events as a part of pharmacovigilance
- Suitable to monitor effectiveness
- Capable of reporting pharmacoepidemiologic data
Pharmacists also play an essential role in developing public awareness which can help to dispel vaccine misinformation therefore their inclusion in advocacy measures should be considered by governments so that legislation which is necessary to authorise and involve them in national immunisation initiatives can be implemented.
In India, because there are no regulations authorising pharmacists to administer vaccines it is crucial to investigate sustainable methods to utilise and enhance their skills in our health systems. Until now, the Government of India has expressed an inclination to deploy pharmacists as health personnel required to administer COVID-19 vaccines. In addition, the Indian Pharmaceutical Association (IPA) wrote to the Ministry of Health in October 2020 to request upskilling pharmacists to meet the shortfall of trained vaccinators by early 2021. In their response dated 23 November 2020, The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Government of India listed pharmacists as potential vaccinators among a list of Healthcare Workers.
The involvement of pharmacists in the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out presents us with a magnitude of opportunities to reduce heavy burdens on our health system which during this outbreak was experienced by a small percentage of overworked medical professionals working tirelessly to save patients’ lives, whilst also protecting their own. To transform how we reach the masses and fight a rapidly spreading deadly disease like COVID-19, we need every skilled hand we can get, and pharmacists should be prioritised as an unmistakable part of the solution we all so desperately seek.
Rao Vadlamudi is currently president of the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association and the Professional Secretary of the SEARPharm Forum, the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) Regional forum for the South East Asia region. He is the immediate past president of the Indian Pharmaceutical Association. He has worked in the Pharmaceutical Industry as well as Academia in India.