A new waiver allowing pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 vaccines when they become more widely available could be thrown into jeopardy by legislative efforts to curtail executive powers.
The temporary waiver, approved by Gov. Tom Wolf, adds state-licensed pharmacists to the list of healthcare professionals who can administer COVID-19 vaccines without a physician’s order.
In a statement Thursday, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said that this waiver will help Pennsylvanians who want the vaccine to get it.
“Pharmacists, as well as pharmacy interns and technicians, are critical partners in the commonwealth’s plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine,” Boockvar said. “Many Pennsylvanians will go to their local pharmacy for vaccination. This waiver will enable pharmacies to offer the COVID-19 vaccines without a physician’s order.”
However, the waiver applies only for “the duration of Wolf’s Disaster Emergency Declaration, plus 90 days,” according to the department raising concerns that the Republican-controlled Legislature’s efforts to curtail those executive powers could hamper the waiver’s effort to boost vaccine access and distribution.
Since the beginning of the disaster emergency declaration, the department has issued 80 waivers, including waivers that moved licensure education online and extended licensure renewal deadlines, a department spokesperson confirmed.
“The current disaster declaration is guiding the timing and expiration dates of the waivers issued by the Department of State,” Laura Humphrey, a spokesperson for the department said, adding that the department could not speculate on the impact the proposed constitutional amendment would have on the waiver and efforts to boost vaccine distribution.
By state law, constitutional amendments, such as the one aimed at reeling in executive disaster declaration powers, must be approved by the General Assembly two sessions in a row before voters weigh in.
Pennsylvanians could see it on their ballots as soon as this May, as previously reported by the Capital-Star.
Earlier this week, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the commonwealth is still “several months” from getting the vaccine to all Pennsylvanians who want it.
This timeline, while hypothetical, could put Wolf’s waiver, and with it, efforts to increase vaccine access and availability, on a collision course with a final vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to lift Wolf’s emergency declaration.