Coronavirus BRIEFING

Seven States Now Permitting Optometrists to Administer COVID-19 Vaccines, AOA Reports

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Image courtesy of AOA
NEW YORK—There are now seven states, up from four in late February, that permit optometrists to administer COVID-19 vaccines, as professional groups on the state and federal level continue to advocate to expand it further. A new update from the American Optometric Association (AOA) on Thursday reported that these seven states now explicitly grant doctors of optometry authority to administer COVID-19 vaccines. The seven are: California, Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia. As VMAIL reported earlier this week, four of those had granted that authority previously.

In its news update, the AOA noted that on March 1, the White House COVID -19 Response Team said "Coronavirus case counts presently are only about a third of what the nation experienced during a record-devastating holiday surge that saw over 250,000 cases/day. However, an uptick in four new variants circulating unmitigated and a general slackening of pandemic precautions drew concerns that a 2 percent week-over-week increase in both cases and deaths nationally may be indicative of a rebound after new cases plateaued at 70,000/day."

“At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” said Rochelle Walensky, MD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director, during the White house briefing. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.” President Biden announced on March 2 that the U.S. will have enough COVID-19 vaccine for every adult in the nation by the end of May, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use approval for Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine. He also stated, “It’s not enough to have the vaccine supply. We need vaccinators—people to put the shots in people’s arms, millions of Americans’ arms.”

The AOA noted that overall, more than 90 percent of the Medicare beneficiary population—those most at-risk for COVID-19 complications—live within 15 minutes of a doctor of optometry. It reiterated its letter to the Biden administration and congressional leadership in late January. It also noted that a congresswoman is taking up optometry’s arguments and urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to authorize doctors of optometry to help administer vaccines in local communities.

In a letter signed by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), the congresswoman emphasized the need to reach traditionally underserved communities and that untapped health professionals, such as doctors of optometry, can support vaccine administration in both rural and urban communities. Rep. Clarke notes that the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness outlines a need for expanding eligible vaccinators and urges optometry’s authorization under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act for the duration of the public health emergency.

“We strongly believe that a declaration by HHS under the PREP Act would allow doctors of optometry across the country to join their colleagues already on the front lines in a growing number of states that have already granted optometrists’ vaccination authority.”

In South Carolina, a join resolution signed into law in late February expanded COVID-19 vaccine administration to doctors of optometry participating at a vaccination site, conditioned on completion of several training programs. These programs include a general overview, safety and vaccine-specific information available through the CDC.

At the time, Rep. West Cox argued that such authorization was crucial to ensuring all Palmetto State residents had equitable access to the vaccine, administered by qualified and “outstanding health care professionals, the AOA said. Michele Donovan, OD, South Carolina Optometric Physicians Association president, added, “Many South Carolina optometric physicians are excited to be able to help in our communities, giving the COVID-19 vaccine. Hopefully with our help, more people will be able to access those vaccines sooner.”

Similarly, in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam signed emergency legislation—S.B. 1445 and H.B. 2333—in late February that permits any qualified and available health care provider in the state to volunteer as a COVID-19 vaccine administrator. The legislation allows doctors of optometry to volunteer at vaccination events statewide, provided they register with the health department and medical reserve corps, as well as complete provider education training.

The AOA has posted AOA resources with more information on utilizing doctors of optometry as COVID-19 vaccinators: #AskAOAUpdateonCOVIDVaccines webinar is available on the AOA's EyeLearn Professional Development Hub here where pharmacist Jason Wong describes administration, legal and regulatory compliance standards and where to seek the latest vaccine information.

The AOA has also developed a fact sheet to assist doctors in advocating for their inclusion as eligible COVID-19 vaccinators, "Doctors of Optometry and Vaccine Administration: The Facts," posted here.