Published in Primary Care

The States Where Optometrists Can Administer COVID-19 Vaccines

This is editorially independent content
5 min read

When over 90% of Medicare patients live within 15 minutes of an optometrist, ODs have a huge opportunity to support the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and expand our scope of practice.

The States Where Optometrists Can Administer COVID-19 Vaccines
Starting in 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine has become more readily available to US citizens with each progressive month; options including Moderna, Pfizer, or even the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In early March, Joe Biden stated that the US will have enough vaccines for every adult in the nation by the end of May. However, it is no longer the vaccine that is in short supply, but healthcare workers who are authorized to administer the shot.
The AOA has been heavily advocating for optometrists to have the authority to administer vaccinations. The organization has written a letter to President Biden urging the new administration to amend the current COVID-19 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act to recognize all doctors of optometry as authorized vaccinators. Affiliates continue to work with state administrations to outline optometry’s utility in the vaccination effort.

Are optometrists qualified to administer the vaccine?

In some states, optometrists are able to administer injections for both anaphylaxis and other ocular treatments. Therefore, there is no reason as to why at least optometrists in these states shouldn’t be qualified to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, since legislation already recognizes their injection authority. Furthermore, let’s not forget that a major part of part III boards is intravenous and intramuscular injections. Although these injections are mainly tested in case of an anaphylaxis or fluorescein angiography test, these same skills can be applied to administering the COVID-19 vaccine.
And if this does not convince you that optometrists are more than qualified to administer the vaccine, optometrists must undergo the same 20-hour course required for pharmacists and be certified in basic life support. The 20-hour course includes 12 hours of virtual self-study and eight hours of lecture/injection technique and an online test.

In which states can optometrists currently administer COVID-19 vaccines?

As of now, nine states grant doctors of optometry authority to administer COVID-19 vaccines, including:
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Kentucky
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Virginia

How could allowing optometrists to administer the vaccine impact scope of practice laws?

Allowing optometrists to administer the vaccine and proving that we as doctors can do so safely and effectively may open doors for more injection authority in states that currently do not allow optometrists to administer injections. The pandemic has put such an immense strain on the healthcare system that the government has begun to understand the need to expand the scope of practice in order to lessen the burden on MDs. In 2020-2021 alone, there have been numerous states that have gained injection authority. Vaccination authority may be the first step to a cascade of scope expansion changes for optometrists in the near future.

How optometrists can impact the vaccine rollout

Did you know that it has been reported that over 90% of Medicare patients live within 15 minutes of an optometrist? Having an optometrist nearby who can administer the vaccine could have a great impact, especially in rural states where it may be hard for patients to travel to major hospitals or vaccination clinics. We already see on average 15-30 patients a day, so saving the patient one less trip to a busy clinic site may help increase the number of patients who opt to receive the vaccine. Furthermore, we could be a good source of education about the vaccine and help patients understand the benefits of getting the shot.
If your state allows optometrists to administer the vaccine, it is important to take the necessary steps to become a vaccinator and demonstrate to the medical community that optometrists are not only here to help but are more than qualified to do so.

How to get involved in legislation to advocate for your state’s COVID-19 authority

If your state is listed above, the AOA is available to help prepare doctors to assist in these vaccination efforts. Furthermore, consider checking out the AOA website where you can find more information on what is involved in becoming a vaccinator:
Laura Goldberg, OD, MS, FAAO, Dipl ABO
About Laura Goldberg, OD, MS, FAAO, Dipl ABO

Dr. Goldberg is currently an associate optometrist at Woolf Eye Lab in Pasadena, MD. She completed a residency in Primary Care & Ocular Disease at VAMC Wilmington, DE, and graduated from New England College of Optometry, Class of 2016. For her MS in Vision Science, she studied possible causes of developmental progression of myopia.

Myopia control has become a passion of hers, and she offers myopia control therapy to patients in-clinic. In addition to her passion for optometry, she enjoys traveling and experiencing many cultures and customs. Ultimately she envisions her career unfolding at the nexus of all three optometric specialties; clinical work, research, and teaching, in order to facilitate continuing advancements in patient care.

Laura Goldberg, OD, MS, FAAO, Dipl ABO
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