University–pharmacy partnerships for COVID-19

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Science  18 Sep 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6510, pp. 1441
DOI: 10.1126/science.abe3339

The global coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has accelerated epidemiologic data collection and reporting to a scale that has never before been achieved (1). Both data volume and segmentation have grown enormously, with granularity of data to track infection now available at the county level or below (2). Years of disinvestment in U.S. public health infrastructure (3) have resulted in the immediate need for new mechanisms to support micro-epidemiologic efforts. Universities and community pharmacies, both trusted institutions with established infrastructure, are uniquely positioned to facilitate micro-epidemiologic efforts by creating partnerships (4).

Micro-epidemiology has been used to track the spatial and temporal prevalence of infection in distinct communities (5). Coupled with longitudinal testing, microepidemiology serves as a sentinel for viral emergence and evolution (6), which can be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Harnessing the established infrastructure of community pharmacies enables coordination of appropriate testing, tracing, and isolation in these communities.

Ninety percent of U.S. residents live within 5 miles of a pharmacy, and in some underserved communities, pharmacists are the only health care provider (7). Community pharmacists are pillars of their communities with trusted connections with patients (4). Pharmacists are trained and authorized to order and administer COVID-19 testing (8) and have widespread authority to administer vaccinations (9). In addition, increasing numbers of pharmacists are participating in practice-based research networks (PBRNs) (10), which are designed to improve community-based health care by providing higher-quality chronic disease management.

University–community pharmacy partnerships follow the PBRN paradigm and harness the strengths of both institutions. Community pharmacies provide a geographically distributed network of accessible health care professionals and can serve as nodes for patient recruitment, whereas the university serves as a logistical and research hub to provide testing, reporting, contact tracing, educational resources, and the research infrastructure required to facilitate such studies. The University can also provide research personnel capable of managing these efforts, allowing the pharmacists to prioritize patient care.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that health departments leverage community pharmacy partnerships to improve public health emergency response (11, 12). We call on schools of pharmacy and public health to forge new relationships and leverage existing partnerships with community pharmacies to meet the current critical need to understand and mitigate COVID-19 and prepare for future pandemic response.

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