By Susan Richards
A year after the first cases of COVID-19 were identified, and months after immunology experts warned us that we were in for a long haul, two vaccines1 were approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use just last month and the efforts to neutralize the virus are underway.
First came Pfizer-BioNTech, followed closely by the Moderna announcement. Both vaccines have shown high levels of effectiveness after the second dose, albeit in limited trials, as well as minimal side effects. Scientists around the world continue to produce more alternatives as well as therapeutics in the battle against the coronavirus, which has sickened millions worldwide and is blamed for more than 350,000 deaths in the U.S.
While much of the focus has been on who is able to get the vaccine first, there are also the overwhelming logistics of rolling out programs to distribute and administer millions of doses as soon as possible. It has become clear that the types of healthcare providers needed to advance the vaccination progress must be expanded, which includes the dental community.
Dentists and Physicians
Most dental professionals won’t be surprised to learn that approximately 9% of Americans who visit their dentist annually, don’t even see their physician in that same period.2 According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dentists as a whole administer far more injections than our counterparts in the medical field.3
Early in the pandemic, the oral health community was instrumental in implementing strong safety standards and infection control protocols in order to continue providing emergency dental care, while also protecting their staff. The success of masks, goggles, face shields, and disinfectant practices is evident in the statistics: in an October study by the ADA, less than 1% of dentists nationwide had tested positive for the virus.4
So, it follows that many dental professionals across the nation are both willing and prepared to join other healthcare professionals in battling the spread of the coronavirus with vaccine administration as well.
Even before COVID-19 appeared, a few states, including Minnesota and Illinois, had already recognized the value of allowing dentists to administer a variety of vaccines just as pharmacists have done for years. Oregon lawmakers had approved the move in 2019 before the current crisis had accelerated the need. In the first week of 2021, California provided an emergency waiver to dentists allowing them to vaccinate qualified patients against the virus.
Now at least 50% of all states are considering following suit. A list of those states in the process of, or already allowing dentists to administer the COVID-19 vaccines can be found here.5 It also references the prioritization and allocation of the vaccine for dentists and their staff; the phases of recipients are determined by individual states.
Before an interested dentist is able to take part in the vaccination rollout, there are factors and steps to take into consideration, such as training and education, as well as guidelines and requirements established by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for providers.6
Because both vaccines require specialized cold storage – one of them sub-zero – dentists will need to consider the logistics for maintaining and distributing the units. Reporting and follow up is also key in the process as there is a two-injection protocol, to be administered several weeks apart.
ADA Stamp of Approval
The ADA offered its support to dentists who seek to assist in vaccine delivery. In October, the ADA House of Delegates passed Resolution 91H-2020, which acknowledges that dentists have the skills and knowledge to “administer critical vaccines that prevent life- or health-threatening conditions and protect the life and health of patients and staff at the point of care.”7
Many dental professionals are already trained to administer anesthesia in intra-oral injections and those versed and educated in the practice of sedation dentistry are often trained in extra-oral injections as well. The ADA resolution goes on to say that these skills will easily translate to the administration of vaccines with the appropriate training.
Whether to fight coronavirus or to provide preventative measures like flu shots and HPV vaccines, dental visits are a prime opportunity to protect patients against deadly viruses. Our profession just may be the additional shot in the arm we need to win the fight against COVID-19.
Author: Susan Richards is a staff writer at DOCS Education. With over 20 years of experience in local journalism and business marketing, Susan’s career includes award-winning feature writing, as well as creating content with context for a wide variety of industries.