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Children can now be vaccinated by pharmacists in all 50 states as the U.S. government seeks to prevent a decline in routine vaccinations during the coronavirus pandemic.
While 28 states already allowed pharmacists to vaccinate children, the directive announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will temporarily override restrictions in 22 states starting this fall, the Associated Press reported.
The directive was issued by HHS head Alex Azar using emergency powers he has during the U.S. coronavirus epidemic, which was declared a public health emergency.
"Especially as we approach the school season, it is critical that children have easy access to the pediatric vaccinations to enable them to get back to school as schools reopen," Azar said, the AP reported.
The Trump administration has been pushing for schools and day care centers to reopen as part of an effort to allow parents to return to work and help revive the economy.
Childhood vaccinations from doctors' offices fell sharply in late March and early April, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, a May survey of pediatricians found that most offices were open and could give recommended childhood shots, and more than half could accept new patients if needed, the AP reported.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) quickly took issue with the new HHS ruling.
"This move is incredibly misguided. In the middle of a pandemic, what families are looking for is reassurance and clinical guidance from the doctors they trust most to care for their children: pediatricians," AAP President Dr. Sally Goza said in a statement. "Pediatricians' offices are open and safe. We have all necessary childhood and adolescent vaccines in stock with trained medical professionals who can administer them. We know that the best, safest place for children to get vaccinated is in their medical home."
Under the HHS directive, state-licensed pharmacies can administer childhood vaccines without a doctor's prescription. But pharmacists must first complete a training program, officials added.
However, the new directive does not permit pharmacists to give shots to children younger than 3 because they don't have the required training or medical support, said Dr. Brett Giroir, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, the AP reported.
The American Pharmacists Association had been talking with federal officials about expanding services that its members can provide during the pandemic, the AP reported.
"I wouldn't say we initiated" the idea of gaining federal authorization to vaccinate children, Mitchel Rothholz, the association's chief of governance and state affiliates, told the AP. "It was part of ongoing conversations going on with decision makers, both at the federal and state level."
-- Robert Preidt
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