Guest blog by Farah Towfic, PharmD, MBA, director of the U.S. Pharmacopeia COVID-19 Vaccine Handling Toolkit
In the United States, nearly 200 million doses of influenza vaccines are administered annually. Clearly, pharmacists, nurses, physicians, and other healthcare practitioners have demonstrated a successful track record of delivering robust immunization programs for many years. However, the unprecedented scale and speed at which the COVID-19 vaccinations must be delivered to curb the devastating impact of this pandemic has surfaced enormous challenges—which have been further compounded by significant vaccine supply demand. Never before have we had to distribute multiple doses to more than 15 billion individuals around the world, with more than 300 million in the U.S. alone.
The pandemic has also recharged the focus on vaccine hesitancy, a challenging and complex issue which, at its core, is about trust based on a person’s experience and perspective. According to the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, a growing share of the public is open to getting vaccinated, but many of the same groups that were hesitant in December 2020, when the first COVID-19 vaccines were released, remain hesitant now. When deciding whether to get vaccinated, most people say they will likely turn to pharmacists, doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers as the source for information. The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor also notes that 85 percent of people trust their own doctor or healthcare provider at least a fair amount for reliable vaccine information.
If we are going to mitigate the impact of this pandemic, we need to help build and maintain trust in COVID-19 vaccines. As an independent, nonprofit, scientific organization, U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) has been dedicated—for more than 200 years—to improving global health and building trust in medicine through public standards and related programs that help ensure the quality, safety, and benefit of our drugs. With our shared goals to provide patient access to quality medicines, USP is proud to be a founding member of the National Consumers League (NCL) Health Advisory Council. The Council’s informative communication and opportunities for engagement provide critical perspectives that help shape and inform USP’s strategic focus and initiatives. The Health Advisory Council also demonstrates the power of collaboration—which is a cornerstone of USP’s work.
By working together with stakeholders, partners in industry and the U.S. government, we are able to identify the COVID-19 vaccine operational challenges and also provide solutions. One of these solutions is the recently released USP COVID-19 Vaccine Handling Toolkit, which addresses gaps that slow getting shots in arms and helps healthcare practitioners safely deliver vaccines in a variety of settings.
As millions of additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines are released, the USP COVID-19 Vaccine Handling Toolkit is helping doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare practitioners create operational efficiencies to vaccinate more people in their communities quickly and safely, all the while maintaining quality. It includes strategies in three key areas:
- Preparation and labeling to support different practitioners preparing and administering vaccines including how to maximize the number of doses per vial and enabling pre-drawing of vaccines in advance of large immunization events.
- Storing, handling, and transporting the vaccine to mass vaccination clinics, nursing and long-term care facilities, and more.
- Waste prevention and disposal to support settings in preventing vaccine waste and addressing gaps for vaccine administrators in proper disposal of ancillary supplies, such as syringes.
“Using the strategies from the USP Vaccine Handling Toolkit for pre-drawing syringes and streamlining our processes and workflow we increased shots in arms by 50% per day,” says Patricia W. Slattum, Pharm.D., Ph.D., BCGP, a vaccine administrator with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corp and Virginia Commonwealth University.
More than 40 independent expert volunteers along with U.S. government representatives developed this toolkit that enables healthcare practitioners to benefit from consistent, scientific-based strategies developed by independent experts that close efficiency gaps across states and territories.
The USP COVID-19 Vaccine Handling Toolkit is one of several initiatives USP is undertaking to support quality and build trust in COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and preventatives. For example, our Hand Sanitizer Toolkit, launched in spring 2020, is being used by many around the world to ensure quality preparation of this essential COVID-19 preventative.
As the nation’s pioneer consumer organization, that leads the charge on the importance of adherence to live-savings medicines, NCL plays a pivotal role in helping to build trust in vaccines. USP values the opportunity to share the COVID-19 Vaccine Handling Toolkit with NCL and looks ahead to future opportunities to partner with NCL and other stakeholders in the patient advocacy community.
As more is learned about COVID-19 vaccines, additional information will be shared in the future. We encourage NCL’s readers to sign-up for updates at www.usp.org/covid-vaccine-handling.
USP is an independent scientific organization that collaborates with the world’s top experts in health and science to develop quality standards for medicines, dietary supplements, and food ingredients. Through our standards, advocacy, and education, USP helps increase the availability of quality medicines, supplements, and food for billions of people worldwide.