AUSTIN, Texas — Tarrytown Pharmacy has been serving Texans for more than 80 years.
“We’ve been in the business since 1941,” said Rannon Ching, the pharmacist in charge there.
Testing for the flu, strep and COVID-19 is a big part of the job.
“Right now, we can provide these tests. But there’s not a really good mechanism for us to provide the medication that the patient might need,” Ching said.
That could change this year. Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, has filed a bill to allow pharmacists to “test and treat.” Texans would no longer have to get their doctor to fill a prescription for flu, strep, or COVID-19 medication.
“Because there’s reliable tests for those,” Rep. Jetton said. “And when someone has that symptom, they can easily get to the pharmacy to get tested. And if tested positive, [they would be] able to get the treatment earlier.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shifted more people away from the traditional doctor’s office visit to pharmacies for testing and vaccines. According to the Institute for Human Data Science, 90% of Americans who got vaccinated against COVID-19 did so in a pharmacy. They say the majority of flu and pneumococcal vaccines were also given by pharmacies.
A poll from the Texas Pharmacy Association found that Texans see their pharmacist on average of 20 times per year, compared to seeing their doctor only four times a year. They say pharmacies are also more accessible in socially vulnerable communities where health care may not be as available.
That’s why another lawmaker, Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, has filed a bill to allow pharmacists to continue giving vaccines to all Texas children, including kids under three if they have a doctor’s note.
Before the pandemic, pharmacists could only give immunizations to kids 14 and older, except for flu shots, which could be administered to children over 7. But when the COVID pandemic began in March 2020, the federal government issued a health declaration that allowed pharmacists to give immunizations to kids over 3 years old. The so-called The PREP Act is set to expire in October 2024.
“It’s important to have access and to make sure we’re eradicating and keeping at bay childhood diseases, like the measles and polio,” Rep. Price said.
The Texas Pharmacy Association reports that 90% of the population lives within two miles of a pharmacy.
“We’re located pretty much everywhere, in big cities, rural areas that might not have great access to health care options. And, we’re open on nights and weekends, and we can really be that extra force to partner with,” Ching said.
He hopes lawmakers push both bills through. Otherwise, pharmacists could no longer give kids vaccines during peak flu season next year, and pharmacists wouldn't be able to prescribe the medication to treat it.
“If we miss this opportunity, it really sets us back where we made so much progress with giving access to people,” Ching said.