For more than a year now we have been talking about the pandemic and the many ways in which it has altered pharmacy practice. The changes that have been implemented to protect patients and pharmacy staff were nothing short of extraordinary, and their effectiveness has helped maintain access to safe, quality pharmacy care for Ontarians.
Pharmacy professionals met the public health crisis head-on, and showed remarkable resilience in the way they adapted to regulatory amendments and changing public health recommendations. Community pharmacies used PPE, screening protocols and physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their locations, establishing them as safe, accessible healthcare providers for patients. Hospital pharmacists and pharmacy technicians played an increasingly vital role in patient care as COVID-19 patient volumes soared. And pharmacy professionals in all settings became trusted sources of reliable COVID-19 information, helping patients make informed decisions for themselves and their families.
In addition, 16 months after the pandemic began, we are seeing the benefit of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and other healthcare professionals supporting the government’s COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs in communities across Ontario.
COVID-19 cases have declined substantially, and as of August 3 the number of adult Ontarians with at least a first dose of vaccine has exceeded 80% of the population, and over 70% have also received their second dose. This has relieved pressure on our hospitals, allowed a gradual re-opening of businesses and community services, and made it possible to see our friends, family and colleagues in person once again.
Yet while the end of the pandemic may be in sight, it is unlikely that we will completely return to business as usual. We can’t predict what the future may hold, but we can take the lessons we have learned to improve the way safe patient care is provided going forward.
We know, for instance, that the pandemic created a demand for virtual care, and that emerging technology is making it easier and safer in a pharmacy setting. As a result, the College’s Board of Directors recently approved a new Virtual Care policy, informed by feedback from an open consultation on our website. This policy sets expectations for the appropriate use of virtual care for pharmacies, and requires that pharmacy professionals consider certain factors such as maintaining a patient’s right to privacy, the appropriateness of using a virtual approach to care, and ensuring the same quality as in-person care is provided.
And, while temporary, we saw the provincial government amend the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 (RHPA) to allow a Part A pharmacist, intern, registered pharmacy student or pharmacy technician to administer the COVID-19 vaccine by injection. Though this amendment is only in effect until next March, it does demonstrate the value of authorizing pharmacy professionals to support the province’s COVID-19 vaccination program, and could be reinstated or extended should Ontarians require booster doses in the future.
The College continues to monitor the evolution of pharmacy practice and government regulation as a result of the pandemic, and to collaboratively provide registrants with ongoing guidance and resources to support their safe delivery of pharmacy care. Please refer to our COVID-19 Information for Pharmacy Professionals web page for the latest updates.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges and placed an extraordinary amount of stress on healthcare professionals. I want to thank you for your ongoing commitment to your patients throughout these challenging times.