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In coronavirus fight, your pharmacist could be an unexpected hero
Retail pharmacy chains such as CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart are already joining forces with federal and state authorities to set up “drive-through” testing sites near their store locations. Pharmacies are perfectly situated for the task at hand.
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Ninety percent of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and there are more than 300,000 licensed pharmacists employed in the United States. While progress setting up these sites has thus far been slow, the new order from HHS should hopefully help to speed up these efforts.
Pharmacists have plenty of training and experience that can make a difference during a pandemic. There is already a process for pharmacies to become labs capable of conducting certain simple health tests. Under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), pharmacies can obtain waivers from the Department of Health and Human Services that allow them to conduct routine tests for conditions like influenza or strep throat.
As rapid-response COVID-19 tests are already being developed and approved for use by the FDA, expect pharmacists to be on the front lines of testing in the coming months.
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When the emergency phase passes, however, public health can continue to be advanced by tapping pharmacists’ extensive training and capabilities. In recent weeks, governors around the country have moved to relax many medical regulations that have hampered the government’s response to the pandemic. Laws that impede the ability of pharmacists to test and treat certain routine illnesses should likewise be reconsidered.