UPDATE: Oct. 23, 2020: On Wednesday, the Trump administration released guidance authorizing pharmacy technicians and pharmacy interns to administer coronavirus vaccines and COVID-19 diagnostic tests. Pharmacy interns must be authorized by their state to do so, and both technicians and interns must be supervised by a licensed pharmacist.
- CVS Health plans to hire 15,000 new part- and full-time employees in the fourth quarter — including 10,000 pharmacy technicians, as the drugstore behemoth ramps up lobbying that the technicians should be authorized to administer coronavirus vaccines.
- The sharp uptick in hiring comes as its near 10,000 brick-and-mortar stores expect an influx of patients during the cold fall and winter months, when COVID-19 cases are expected to increase.
- CVS is in discussions with HHS about its push for technicians to be broadly allowed to administer immunizations. The company, like other major U.S. pharmacy chains, is also in talks with the government on a distribution strategy for a coronavirus vaccine, once approved.
Pharmacy technicians fulfill numerous roles behind the pharmacy counter like processing prescriptions, dispensing medications and other administrative tasks under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist.
The employees have already been administering COVID-19 diagnostic tests at the drugstore chain's 4,000 drive-thru testing sites, but now CVS is lobbying to ensure its technicians can immunize people for COVID-19, once a vaccine or multiple are approved.
The Trump administration expects at least one approval before the end of the year.
A handful of states allow pharmacy technicians to administer vaccines. CVS employs pharmacy technician immunizers in five states: Idaho, Rhode Island, Utah, Michigan and Nevada, and is currently training technicians to administer vaccines in Washington state.
"We believe authorization for trained pharmacist technicians to administer COVID-19 vaccines will expand capacity throughout the U.S. to efficiently and safely vaccinate millions of Americans," a CVS spokesperson said. "That is why we advocate for an expanded scope of practice that would allow trained pharmacy technicians to administer COVID-19 vaccinations under the supervision of an immunization-certified pharmacist."
Major retail pharmacy players have been speaking publicly in support of freeing up the pharmacist to practice at the top of their license.
Alex Gourlay, co-chief operating officer at Walgreens, said at the virtual HLTH conference last week that pharmacists should have a more central role in services like vaccinations, testing and treatment, echoing similar comments from CVS CEO Larry Merlo and Rite Aid COO Jim Peters at the event.
The Trump administration on Friday announced it was partnering with CVS and Walgreens to help administer coronavirus vaccines to high-need groups like long-term care facility and residents.
In COVID-19 relief legislation earlier in the year, Congress stipulated Medicare beneficiaries and people in private plans should receive access to immunizations without out-of-pocket costs. But HHS is still figuring out how to pay for an eventual vaccine. The expected speedy timeline of the regulatory approval necessitates some tricky regulatory maneuvers from the administration to ensure reimbursement.
Walgreens declined to comment on whether it too was ramping up hiring in preparation for dispensing vaccines, or its thoughts on allowing technicians to administer immunizations.
However, the Deerfield, Illinois-based chain did say in a Friday statement on the long-term care vaccination partnership it looked forward to leveraging its "nationwide footprint, community presence and pharmacist expertise" for distribution.
Concerns about potential politicization of the coronavirus vaccine approval have dogged the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed. Only about 58% of the U.S. public now says they'd be willing to receive a vaccine as soon as its available, down from 69% in mid-August, according to a new survey from STAT and The Harris Poll.
CVS is also hiring for pharmacists, nurses, nurse practicioners, physician assistants, member benefit case workers, distribution center employees and customer service representatives for its pharmacy benefit management and specialty pharmacy businesses, the company said Monday.
The Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based healthcare giant announced plans in March to hire 50,000 people to support its COVID-19 response.
As of August, CVS employed some 290,000 people, according to Fortune.