Medical Board of California Endorses Legislation Allowing Pharmacists to Administer Potential COVID-19 Vaccines Without Federal-Level Approval

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By Jonathan Padua

At its August 13, 2020 meeting, the Medical Board of California (MBC), in anticipation of a potential COVID-19 vaccine becoming available to the general public, voted to support AB 1710 (Wood) (Chapter 123, September 24, 2020) a bill that authorizes a licensed pharmacist to independently initiate and administer any COVID-19 vaccines approved or authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Pharmacy Law already authorizes licensed pharmacists in California, who have completed an immunization training program and are certified in basic life support, to independently initiate and administer routine vaccines as identified in the schedules issued by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), under the Centers for Disease Control.

AB 1710, as amended August 24, 2020, amends section 4052.8 of the Business and Professions Code to add future FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccinations to the pre-existing list of vaccines on the ACIP’s routine immunization schedules, and authorizes pharmacists to administer any FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine under the same circumstances as pharmacists administer other routine vaccines.

According to the California Pharmacist Association, the sponsor of the bill, AB 1710 is necessary because pharmacists would not be able to administer a COVID vaccine until it has been recommended by ACIP, a process that usually takes at least six months after FDA approval.

In its legislative analysis prior to the August quarterly meeting, MBC staff analyzed the then-current iteration of the bill as amended July 2, 2020. Staff recognized the immediate need for quick and widespread distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine once available, but also expressed concern about the balance between public health and any potential consumer risk from an expedited vaccine. Furthermore, during the quarterly meeting, Board member Laurie Rose Lubiano, echoing the legislative analysis prior, cautioned that under the original language of the bill, it would not only allow an authorized pharmacist to administer a COVID-19 vaccine, but rather “it would grant a pharmacist authority to independently initiate and administer any FDA-approved vaccine to persons aged three and older.” Ultimately, the Board voted to support AB 1710 if it was amended to narrow the scope of the bill to only COVID-19 related vaccines, and recognized that having trained pharmacists administer the vaccine would be the most efficient way to vaccinate the general population at large.

After the Board’s meeting, the legislature did amend the bill to narrow its scope per the Board’s suggestion. Governor Newsom signed AB 1710 on September 24, 2020 (Chapter 123, Statutes of 2020).

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