Pharmacists will be permitted to give children vaccines under new guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) out of concern for dropping rates of immunizations since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Forbes reports.
According to a Wednesday statement, HHS made the call to expand access to immunizations for children to keep children healthy from preventable diseases like measles, polio and chickenpox and avoid further pressure on the American healthcare system, which has been overloaded in some places by the coronavirus pandemic.
A Centers for Disease Control report released in May found that childhood immunizations fell shortly after the coronavirus pandemic was declared a national emergency in March, a drop HHS called “troubling” in a statement.
The order will allow pharmacists with a state license to give children older than 3 years old a vaccine without a prescription from a doctor, as long as they have completed a training course with a minimum of 20 hours.
The Associated Press reported that children being vaccinated at pharmacies is rare, despite being allowed in 28 states—only roughly 7% of flu shots were given to children in 2018 at pharmacies.
According to AP, 28 states already permit pharmacists to give children immunizations, while 22 states have some form of restriction on pharmacists administering vaccines for minors, including three that outright forbid the practice.
In Wednesday’s statement, HHS said an aim of the directive is to “increase access to lifesaving childhood vaccines and decrease the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks as children across the United States return to daycare, preschool and school.” Children returning to in-person care and class in the midst of the pandemic has been a controversial notion. While some, like President Donald Trump, have insisted schools should reopen, others think it’s not yet safe. Coronavirus outbreaks have been reported at schools that began in-person classes this month.