Delco relied on pharmacists for essential care during the pandemic
The prominent sign on the front of Springfield’s only independent pharmacy read “Now Available.” I didn’t know if the sign would motivate patients to come to my pharmacy to get their COVID-19 vaccine after it was first approved in December 2020. But I knew it was essential for members in Delaware County and area around Philadelphia to have access to essential care and services from my pharmacy.
Fifty-five thousand COVID-19 vaccines and more than two years since the United States declared a public health emergency, my work continues to protect residents of an area that had no local health department. But the work of our pharmacy and others across Pennsylvania to keep communities safe is unsecured — in fact, it’s in jeopardy. If Congress does not act, people in my community and thousands of others risk losing access to essential care and services provided by pharmacists like me.
Pennsylvanians have encountered many barriers over the years to accessing health care, and COVID-19 has compounded those barriers to access. Many local clinics have closed, forcing residents to wait months before they can get an appointment with a health care provider. Pennsylvanians have been able to rely on pharmacists to access care and support during these times — which was especially important in Delco, where a high community risk for COVID-19 persists.
Today, pharmacists provide essential services – including testing and vaccination for COVID-19 – to communities under temporary local, state and federal emergency authorities instituted in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. 19.
At the height of the pandemic, my fellow pharmacists and I knew we needed to ensure Delco patients had access to various point-of-care tests, COVID-19 vaccines, and other vaccines to prevent communicable diseases. . Over 30,000 patients signed up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after limited supplies became available at my pharmacy. As more vaccine doses became available, we opened mobile vaccination sites in Delco and went door-to-door to ensure patients could get their COVID-19 vaccine. This was essential for the homebound and the elderly, many of whom were unable or too afraid to leave their homes.
Vaccination rates for childhood illnesses other than COVID (such as measles or polio) also fell during the pandemic, which has caused its own kind of health crisis. For Delco children who could not return to school without proof of vaccination, this became a serious problem. Recognizing the need to ensure these young Pennsylvanians could continue with in-person school (and receive the COVID-19 vaccine, once they were eligible), we organized and staffed multiple vaccination sites at gymnasiums across the district. school in Delaware County, where pharmacists in superhero costumes welcomed the children. at a carnival-themed vaccination site filled with candies and balloons. By the end of the many vaccination clinics and carnivals, we had vaccinated more than 18,000 children.
We work hard to protect people in our community because they need us, not only because other care options are limited, but also because they trust their local pharmacists.
But the emergency authorization that allows us to provide testing and vaccinations for COVID-19 is due to expire in mid-July. When federal health officials eventually lift those emergency authorities, patients could lose access to essential pharmacist services they relied on during the pandemic.
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Congress can take action to prevent this dangerous disruption of care for Pennsylvanians by enacting HR 7213, a bipartisan bill to maintain Medicare beneficiaries’ access to pharmaceutical care and services such as COVID-19 testing, vaccination and treatment. The bill would also ensure that we can continue to provide a number of other services – such as testing for COVID-19, influenza, strep throat and respiratory viruses – and make treatments available for many of these conditions. The bill would also ensure that pharmacists are adequately reimbursed for these services.
I urge the entire Pennsylvania congressional delegation to support HR 7213 to maintain patient access to essential care provided by pharmacists, both during the endemic phase of COVID-19 and until the next public health emergency. . This will allow pharmacists in Delco and across the Commonwealth to protect our neighbors and maintain a reliable and essential source of care where there are few other accessible options.
Chichi Ilonzo Momah is CEO and Pharmacist in Charge of Springfield Pharmacy located in Delco, Pennsylvania.