By Margaret L. Gibson, OD
April 14, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic is the most devastating international crisis most people alive today have lived through. When I learned that optometrists would have the opportunity to get certified to administer the vaccines that will eventually help end this crisis, I wanted to be a part of it. Here is why I got certified to administer vaccinations and how I am using this certification to contribute to my community.
Helping My Community & Acquiring a New, Marketable Skill
My main motivation to become certified in vaccinations was to be able to give back to the local community and use my optometry degree to do so. Having this skill will also make me more marketable for future job positions because I can contribute immunization skills to the practice.
Most optometric practices have not found it manageable to make their offices COVID-19 vaccination centers, so I plan to volunteer to administer the vaccine at community vaccination sites.
The experience of getting certified to administer the COVID-19 vaccines was like CE turbocharged! There was some review of information I had already acquired as part of my optometric education, and a lot of new information. I enjoyed the challenge and learning about vaccines. There was a section on immunology, which I really enjoyed, as it was one of my favorite undergrad classes. The entire process so far has taken about 30 hours, and I still need to complete the Basic Life Support (BLS) re-certification course. I was lucky I had some downtime to dedicate to this.
Optometrists in California, where I practice, were granted emergency authorization by the California Department of Consumer Affairs to administer COVID-19 vaccines if these conditions are met. In addition, I got guidance from “Training Requirements for Non-Traditional and Expanded Vaccinators.”
Along with learning the state certification requirements, I consulted with my state optometric board and professional liability insurance provider about whether administering vaccinations would exceed my scope of practice, and whether my professional liability insurance would cover me while I did this work. In response I was told: “Your policy protects you from professional activities that are considered to be normal and customary according to the rules and regulations of the state and the state licensing board.”
A 2018 California law allows certified ODs to administer the following immunizations: influenza, pneumococcal and herpes zoster virus, to patients 18 years and older. To gain Immunization Delivery Certification, ODs must complete a 20-hour pharmacy-based course (written by the American Pharmacists Association), which includes 12 hours of self-study and eight hours of virtual/live lecture and injection.
The 12-hour self-study has five modules (which cover all vaccines and indications, even vaccines optometrists are not authorized to give at this time) and an 80-question open book post-test, which must be passed with 70 percent or greater (you have two tries) and this must be completed and passed before the eight-hour virtual live class begins. The eight-hour live virtual class also has a 45-question open book post-test that also must be passed with 70 percent or greater (two tries also).
There is then a live virtual practicum during which the student must administer two intramuscular injections of sodium chloride and one subcutaneous injection of sodium chloride to a test patient. It is unknown at this time if this course will count toward continuing education requirements for the California State Board of Optometry. Optometrists will need to perform one hour of ongoing continuing education focused on immunizations and vaccines from an approved provider once every two years.
To administer the COVID-19 vaccines, ODs also must complete modules on the current FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines (takes approximately three hours), be up to date with BLS/CPR training and also take OSHA blood-borne pathogen training.
The course price at Marshall B. Ketchum University to become certified as an OD to administer the COVID-19 vaccines ranges from $450-$600 depending on when the registration took place. The supplies are an additional $45.
After gaining certification to administer the COVID-19 vaccines, this site directs me to places where I can volunteer to put my new skill to use.
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A Skill ODs May Be Able Continue Using Even After the Pandemic
Hopefully, ODs can help administer vaccines into the future, whether through volunteering in the community or in their own office. Being able to administer a vaccine that can prevent a potentially serious sickness while the patient is already in the office for an annual exam would be a great boost to public health.
It is important for the optometric community to participate in efforts to end the pandemic. We are healthcare providers who can use our scientific base of knowledge to learn a skill with lifesaving benefits.
Margaret L. Gibson, OD, is a freelance optometrist based in Carlsbad, Calif. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org