OPINION: Vaccinators urgently needed -- Connecticut needs to act now



 

By  Mary Blankson

As we enter a third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines are plentiful but vaccinators are not. Unlike many issues associated with the pandemic, this problem has a straightforward solution: allow properly supervised medical assistants to administer vaccines. We call on the General Assembly and Governor Lamont to address this long-overdue and much needed statutory change during the current legislative session.

Medical assistants are key members of the patient care team at Community Health Center, Inc., as they are at most medical practices. But while 48 states allow MAs to administer vaccinations, Connecticut does not. Lack of vaccinators continues to be a major staffing issue during the pandemic, and puts additional stress on other members of the care team. This has also put pressure on the vaccinating workforce, causing wage inflation, and at times has resulted in agencies such as ours relying on travel vaccinators to come into our state rather than allowing another group of Connecticut health care staff an opportunity to help.

Patients trust medical assistants, who are often the first member of the care team they encounter on a visit to their provider. While once the MA primarily collected vital signs, today they play a much more expansive role. They manage electronic health records, collect specimens, perform complex laboratory tests and serve as an essential link between the patient and provider to improve health outcomes.

CHC was Connecticut’s largest COVID-19 vaccinator in 2021, operating four mass vaccination sites across the state and administering more than 5,000 doses per day at the height of the pandemic. One of the greatest challenges in this unprecedented effort was employing a sufficient number of vaccinators to meet the demand. Connecticut allows paramedics, EMTs, veterinarians, dental hygienists and podiatrists to administer vaccines. Why not medical assistants, who are graduates of accredited, postsecondary training programs, where the curriculum very clearly covers immunizations?

Empowering MAs to take on more responsibility has the added benefit of allowing medical providers such as MDs, APRNs, RNs and LPNs to take on the challenging work that includes complex care and chronic illness management and helps prevent the burnout experienced by so many front-line health care workers. Chronic illnesses have not gone away during the pandemic, and now more than ever, we need our focus on improving the health of our communities. To ensure patient safety, we support requiring medication be administered under the supervision, control and responsibility of a licensed health care provider. This guarantees proper oversight and provides an opportunity to evaluate the impact of allowing medical assistants to administer medication in the primary care setting.

According to labor statistics, the medical assistant workforce is more diverse than other vaccinating groups, which will contribute to the reduction of vaccine hesitancy through the increase in social concordance between vaccinating staff and patients, a problem the state has worked hard to resolve. Supporting medical assistants to administer vaccines will also increase job opportunities for this historically diverse workforce.

Bills to expand the scope of practice of Medical Providers have failed to progress at the Capitol in the past, but in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, allowing medical assistants to administer vaccines takes on unprecedented urgency. We call on Governor Lamont and the legislature to make 2022 the year Medical Assistants are authorized to administer vaccines, for the good of the public health in our state.

Mary Blankson is chief nursing officer of Community Health Center, Inc. CHC has administered more than 590,000 COVID-19 vaccines since December 2020.



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