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A Dialogue on COVID-19 Vaccines: The “Challenge of Our Time”

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On January 27, HDA joined other industry experts, public health leaders and elected officials for an insightful conversation about the manufacturing, distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines. Speakers and panelists from across the healthcare industry shared important perspectives with Steve Clemons, Editor-in-Chief of The Hill, on what can be done to support and strengthen the largest immunization campaign in our nation’s history. Below are a few takeaways from the discussion.

1. Ongoing coordination and collaboration between the public and private sector is key.

HDA President and CEO Chip Davis commended the hard work and dedication from partners across the pharmaceutical supply chain and government to ensure vaccines arrive safely and efficiently to points of administration, highlighting that “if you look at the CDC’s COVID tracker, of the number of vaccines distributed versus those administered … we were running at about 3:1 nationally. That number is now under 2:1, so we are making progress in the right way.”

With the federal government’s purchase (and the forthcoming availability) of COVID-19 vaccines, Davis emphasized the critical need to leverage all opportunities to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, including working with healthcare distributors. “There is no other industry able to answer that call if the administration says that they're going to raise the aspirational limits,” underscored Davis.

2. Use rural and community pharmacies to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine administration.

As one of the most trusted healthcare professionals, pharmacists serve as counselors, educators and advocates for patients, positioning them to play a key role in COVID-19 vaccine administration. While speaking on the importance of setting aspirational, “man on the moon” immunization goals for the Biden administration, Dr. Leana Wen, Emergency Physician & Visiting Professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, brought attention to West Virginia’s successful vaccine distribution and administration campaign, which is leaning on pharmacy. “The idea of expanding vaccination sites so that you have your enlisting community pharmacies — that's one of the reasons why West Virginia has done so well in the vaccination program,” said Dr. Wen.

Earlier this week, the Biden-Harris Administration recognized the critical role of pharmacies and launched the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, in which several HDA members will participate. As long-standing partners to the pharmacy community, healthcare distributors will continue to work alongside and support pharmacy customers with value-added services that in turn allow pharmacists to focus on vaccine administration.

3. Reaching patients in vulnerable communities remains a priority throughout the vaccine rollout process.

Ensuring that all patients, especially those in underserved communities, have access to the COVID-19 vaccine will continue to be a top priority across the nation. “We really needed to get to every part of the population. That’s the only way we’re going to really put a curb on this pandemic. We started out behind the ball. We've got to catch up,” stressed Rep. Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-Texas).

Reflecting on his own experiences as a provider, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) shared similar views on expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines for vulnerable populations. The COVID-19 vaccination campaign must immunize “as many as you can, as fast as you can,” asserted Rep. Wenstrup.

4. Despite improving immunization rates, the “new normal” will require vigilance.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden, shared optimism that that there is “light at the end of the tunnel” in the fight against COVID-19. However, as the nation approaches some degree of normalcy, Dr. Fauci cautioned that we must remain vigilant and continue to pay attention to the virus. “That, to me, is the new normal,” said Dr. Fauci.

Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome echoed similar views, expressing “optimism with some guardedness” as industry stakeholders and federal and state government continue working together to distribute and administer vaccines. Mayor Broome outlined the need to continue practicing individual and collective mitigation efforts, such as mask wearing and social distancing, to reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

5. Moving closer toward a “new normal” will require coordination on a global scale.

Despite international political challenges, engagement among the global scientific community never went away, according to Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health. “Americans understand, especially now, we cannot afford to only look inward in the time of a global pandemic,” Dr. Collins said.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist for the World Health Organization, echoed those sentiments, emphasizing that even as countries make progress in vaccinating their populations, we will not be able to get back to normal until people around the world are protected. “We need global solidarity and cooperation,” reiterated Dr. Swaminathan.

Looking Forward

As we move into the second year of the fight against COVID-19, our nationwide immunization effort will require the full force of partners throughout the healthcare industry and all levels of government. With strong logistics expertise and experience in responding to public health emergencies, healthcare distributors stand ready to answer the call and assist with the largest immunization campaign of our time.

The full event recording is available here. For additional HDA materials and pandemic response resources, visit: www.hda.org/covid19.

ABOUT THE HEALTHCARE DISTRIBUTION ALLIANCE

The Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) represents primary pharmaceutical distributors — the vital link between the nation’s pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics and others nationwide. Since 1876, HDA has helped members navigate regulations and innovations to get the right medicines to the right patients at the right time, safely and efficiently. The HDA Research Foundation, HDA’s nonprofit charitable foundation, serves the healthcare industry by providing research and education focused on priority healthcare supply chain issues.

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