The vaccinator workforce is an essential component of the COVID-19 response and recovery. However, since administration of the two FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines began in December 2020, the rollout has encountered several challenges and failed to meet initial targets for total vaccinations provided. The current health workforce has been identified as one possible bottleneck for distributing the vaccine, prompting a general call to authorize as many healthcare professionals to administer the vaccine as possible.
To track this fast-moving issue at the state level, researchers at the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity have created an interactive tool that displays temporary, emergency state policies authorizing specific professions to provide the COVID-19 vaccine. This new interactive tool geographically displays state policies that expand on the types of personnel authorized to provide the COVID-19 vaccine beyond physicians, advanced practice nurses, and other traditional clinicians. It is important to note that this tool only represents emergency measures taken at the state level to address the vaccination workforce, and that general state scope of practice laws and federal policies are not displayed.
As noted in a March 2021 Health Affairs blog post, action from the federal and state governments on increasing the vaccinator workforce was initially slow when vaccines became available in late 2020, in part because regulatory oversight of health professions is determined by a patchwork of scope of practice laws and licensing rules determined by varying mechanisms and agencies within state governments.
According to the online tool, 24 states have implemented temporary, emergency policies expanding the COVID-19 vaccinator workforce. “Such efforts might significantly speed up the push to get more people in the United States vaccinated and thus help reopen state economies,” said Patricia Pittman, director of the Mullan Institute and professor of health policy and management at Milken Institute School of Public Health.
On March 11, 2021, the Biden Administration extended liability protection under the PREP Act for health professions students, dentists, paramedics, veterinarians, optometrists, and skilled volunteers when administering the Covid-19 vaccination. In earlier actions, the PREP Act immunity included pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy interns, as well as physicians and advanced practice nurses with inactive, expired or lapsed licenses in the past five years (if previously in good standing). The most recent amendment dramatically expands the pool of vaccinators covered by PREP Act protections. While this federal action is important, state officials may also wish to take action to waive restrictions on these professions and on health professions' students to provide clarification for professionals in that state.
“Policies that facilitate maximum flexibility to use the broadest swath of the health workforce for vaccination efforts offer the greatest potential impact on this issue,” said Julia Strasser, a senior research scientist at the Mullan Institute. “Tracking this flexibility at the state level will allow researchers and policy-makers to view the geographic distribution of these policies and compare them across states.”
Source: George Washington University