ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WMAR) — With concerns about exposure to COVID-19, the pandemic has limited access to health care for many families.
"Through COVID, we saw major drops in childhood immunization rates," said Cailey Locklair, the President of the Maryland Chain Drug Store Association.
Maryland Department of Health data showed a 56 percent drop in childhood immunizations when comparing April 2019 and April 2020. The CDC also found sharp declines nationwide.
So in August, a federal order authorized licensed pharmacists to administer any FDA-approved vaccine to children 3 years and older.
Now, bills moving through the state legislature would continue that order until the summer of 2023, expanding access to vaccines at pharmacies.
"Maryland law only allows us [pharmacists] to at the age of 7 and above with a prescription," said Locklair.
Locklair said this bill would help the many families without primary care physicians.
In 2017, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 45% of Maryland children do not have a medical home where they are able to receive regular health care.
"This is something that is going to significantly change the game for them. And we know that 90% of Americans actual live within 5 miles of a pharmacy so the access that this bill would provide to families in incredible," said Locklair.
"There is a lot of concern. There is a difference between what needs to happen during this public health crisis and what needs to be the permanent framework," said Pamela Kasemeyer, who testified on behalf of the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics during a subcommittee hearing Thursday.
One concern is that this would take children away from wellness visits. The bill includes a study of the long term impacts before making a permanent decision.
"We also put language in the bill that would mandate a pharmacist has to have a conversation with the parents about the importance of wellness visits for children," said Locklair.
The Department of Legislative Services found the bill doesn’t directly impact state or local governments but small business pharmacies stand to benefit with the expansion of services. A house subcommittee will take the bill back up Monday.