NEW YORK—The much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine rollout has begun across the U.S., and optometrists in a handful of states have been granted the right to administer shots, while professional groups on the state and federal level continue to push for more to follow suit. As of late February, ODs in four states—California, Utah, Kentucky and Ohio—are among the first to include optometrists in immunization efforts, according to a recent Review of Optometry report. Similar legislation is pending in New Jersey, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA), the report noted.

In a move to address California’s shortage of health care providers available to administer the vaccine, the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs recently approved a public health emergency waiver to allow doctors of optometry to give COVID-19 shots, as VMAIL reported.

“Optometrists are located in almost every county in California. Often, there is no wait time for an appointment. When there are enough vaccines, patients can be asked to get a vaccine at every office visit,” California Optometric Association (COA) president Jason Tu, OD, said in a statement.

Many California optometrists are already trained to administer vaccines as part of a 2018 law that allows certified ODs to administer some immunizations.

Until more vaccines become available, most state optometrists are planning to volunteer at mass vaccination sites or local optometry colleges, noted COA executive director Kristine Shultz, according to the Review of Optometry report.

Ian Whipple, OD, president of the Utah Optometric Association, looked into the possibility of administering COVID-19 shots at his practice, but said the current storage requirements for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are cost prohibitive.

“I expect that with the hopeful approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we will be able to administer these shots to our patients,” Dr. Whipple told Review of Optometry.

The Utah Optometric Association is planning large-scale training opportunities for its member doctors, in addition to offering a vaccine training course at its annual convention in June, Dr. Whipple said.

In Ohio, an urgent call for volunteer medical professionals from the state’s public health emergency program recruited ODs as part of the effort to support its COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Ohio pressed for optometry’s inclusion even before the first vaccines became available, and ODs were bolstered in the effort since the state is one of a few that permit authorization for vaccinations in the event of an emergency.

In a recent letter to the White House, the AOA urged the new administration to amend the current COVID-19 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act declaration to recognize that all optometrists can administer vaccines, the Review of Optometry report noted.

According to the AOA, 99 percent of Americans live in a county with a doctor of optometry, and ODs have the necessary knowledge to provide vaccines, not to mention the fact that optometry schools teach injections. Optometrists in 19 states are already authorized to administer injections, and in an additional 20 states, optometrists can provide anaphylaxis through injection.

For these efforts, state administrations generally agreed to include optometry among the initial distribution phases, the AOA said in a statement, according to the Review of Optometry report.