Can dentists, ophthalmologists administer COVID vaccines?

With federal health officials expected to authorize the first COVID-19 vaccine in the United States within days, health care providers wonder if there are enough of them to legally administer the vaccine to millions of Americans.

Among the professionals worried about vaccination capacity are ophthalmologists and dentists, who both say they are qualified to inject their patients when they come in for routine checkups and cleanings.

However, many providers say their involvement in vaccine distribution may not materialize any time soon. Unique storage and shipping issues, as well as different state decisions on vaccine allocation could put a pause on any legislation needed to allow dentists to vaccinate people.

Despite the known obstacles, federal health officials still recognize the need for additional help.

In the Nov. 23 guidelines, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said states should “assess the types of providers who can administer vaccinations… [and] consider whether there should be an expansion of providers, including mass vaccinators.

“When you look at what dentists are doing and the number of injections they’re giving day in and day out, I think they’re more than qualified,” said dentist and state assemblyman Jim Wood. from California, to NBC News in November. “It’s kind of obvious.”

The American Dental Association says about 9% of Americans see their dentist, but not their doctor, each year, which is enough to consider them “an essential health care service,” according to a Nov. 20 letter sent at the Centers for Disease Control. and Prevention.

“Dentists and their teams can help increase the country’s medical surge capacity when medical staff are overstretched,” the ADA wrote. “Dentists are trained healthcare professionals who can administer essential vaccines to prevent life-threatening conditions – and protect the life and health of patients and staff at the point of care.”

During the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, dentists in some states were allowed to administer vaccines to reduce the burden on other health care providers.

“I think everyone knows that dentists do a lot of injections all day, every day, and the injections we give are much more technically complex and involve riskier drugs,” said Dr. Dean Chiodo, Dean of the University of Washington School of Dentistry. told the Seattle-based KOMO News.

“Dentists are trained to inject other drugs into the arm, to take intravenous blood samples, to administer drugs for sedation, for emergency reasons. So it’s definitely part of our training,” Chiodo said.

Another Massachusetts dentist highlighted the convenience of getting vaccinated during routine cleanings.

“With a little extra training, I’m more than confident we could deliver the COVID vaccine,” said Dr. Christopher Pellegrino, dentist at Hingham Dental Associates, Boston25. “Usually, patients are close to their dental office. It’s easy to get to, it’s convenient. It’s a very safe environment right now with all the PPE standards we’ve added.

Ophthalmologists are in the same boat

A California optometrist, Dr. Frank Giardina, told NBC News that while the shingles virus can infect the eyes, he is not legally allowed to administer the vaccine that prevents it.

Giardina told the outlet that he hopes his state will allow ophthalmologists to administer COVID-19 vaccines when they become available. California is one of the states that “allow physician optometrists to provide vaccinations,” according to the American Optometric Association, but additional permission would need to be granted for the coronavirus.

“We are another member of the health care team. It’s a waste of manpower not to do that,” Giardina told NBC News. “If you’re trying to vaccinate all these people, especially in rural areas, you need everyone you can find.”

The AOA reports that there are more than 46,000 optometrists working in the United States, suggesting that “Optometry is well positioned to increase public access to these essential vaccinations.”

“This unprecedented situation necessitates a reassessment of the types of providers able to deliver vaccinations in each state, recognizing that Doctors of Optometry can – and do – deliver vaccinations in some states and have the capacity to expand this historic vaccination response. “, said Dr. William Reynolds. , president of the AOA, said in a statement.

This story was originally published December 11, 2020 5:19 p.m.

Follow more of our reporting on Washington’s full coronavirus coverage

See all stories

Miami Herald Related Stories

Katie Camero is a McClatchy National Real-Time Science reporter. She is an alumnus of Boston University and has reported for The Wall Street Journal, Science and The Boston Globe.