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Maryland pharmacies have proven their value as health centers | READER COMMENTARY

When the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak and many doctors’ offices were not providing in-person visits for routine appointments, Marylanders were able to get their vaccination needs met at their local pharmacy. Not only did this speed up the process for those who chose to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but thanks to the PREP Act, families were also able to keep their children’s vaccinations up to date at the pharmacy if they couldn’t get in with a pediatrician.

Federal statistics show pharmacies have provided more than two of every three COVID-19 vaccine doses. Making access to vaccinations easy through the thousands of pharmacists in Maryland saved countless lives.

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Now thanks to the pandemic and despite expanded access to care at pharmacies, vaccination rates for dangerous diseases like measles and whooping cough are down, but flu season is approaching fast. Your local pharmacy is the perfect place to prepare for this fall and get flu vaccines for the whole family and to make sure that everyone is caught up on their shots for school (”Free vaccine doesn’t mean equal access for all,” Sept. 12).

The Maryland Association of Chain Drug Stores says there is a pressing need for pharmacies to continue providing these services to families, especially as over 48% of children in Maryland currently do not have a relationship with a pediatrician. There are on average 15% more pharmacies in low-income communities than physicians, the association says, and pharmacies have significantly longer open hours than doctors’ offices.

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We need to allow pharmacies to continue to dispense the lifesaving shots, not only for COVID but for whatever else threatens public health and safety. Pharmacies should be able to help families protect their children within safety guidelines that health authorities already establish and regulate. Maryland law currently allows pharmacists to administer vaccinations to children ages 3 and up through June of 2023 when the law will expire. If the Maryland General Assembly does not pass permanent legislation during its 2023 legislative session, families will have to go back to waiting for doctor’s appointments or depending on public vaccination clinics.

During the pandemic emergency, pharmacies proved they can be trusted to safely administer vaccines to adults and children, protecting our communities and saving thousands of lives. We support allowing pharmacies to continue to provide vaccinations, ensuring that Marylanders of all backgrounds and ages will continue to have access to this lifesaving service.

Almost two dozen other states have passed legislation to allow pharmacies to permanently administer vaccines including our neighbors Virginia and Pennsylvania.

No one benefits from making vaccines harder to get. The Maryland General Assembly should pass legislation in 2023 to allow Marylanders the option of continuing to receive this critical service at pharmacies. There is just no reason to allow the pool of vaccinators in the state to shrink and make vaccines less accessible.

— Lenna Israbian-Jamgochian, Bethesda

The writer is chair of the Maryland Association of Chain Drug Stores.

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