Alaska pharmacists: First responders to the pandemic in the last frontier.
Pharmacists are among the nation’s most accessible and underused health professionals. Within their scope of practice, pharmacists can prescribe and administer vaccines, conduct point-of-care testing, and address drug shortages through therapeutic substitutions. To better use pharmacists as first responders to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), we conducted a needs and capacity assessment to (1) determine individual commitment to provide COVID-19 testing and management services, (2) identify resources required to provide these services, and (3) help prioritize unmet community needs that could be addressed by pharmacists. In March 2020, pharmacists and student pharmacists within the Alaska Pharmacist Association worked to tailor, administer, and evaluate results from a 10-question survey, including demographics (respondent name, ZIP Code, cell phone, and alternate e-mail). The survey was developed on the basis of published COVID-19 guidelines, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 screening and management guidelines, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy guidance, and joint policy recommendation from pharmacy organizations. Pharmacies are located in the areas of greatest COVID-19 need in Alaska. Pharmacists are willing and interested in providing support. Approximately 63% of the pharmacists who completed the survey indicated that they were interested in providing COVID-19 nasal testing, 60% were interested in conducting COVID-19 antibody testing, and 93% were interested in prescribing and administering immunizations for COVID-19, as available. When asked about resources needed to enable pharmacists to prescribe antiviral therapy, 37% of the pharmacists indicated they needed additional education or training, and 39% required access to technology to bill and document provided services. The primary barrier to pharmacists augmenting the current COVID-19 response is an inability to cover the costs of providing these health services. Pharmacists in Alaska are ready to meet COVID-19-related clinical needs if public and private insurers and legislators can help address the barriers to service sustainability.