The much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine rollout has begun across the United States, 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. Optometrists are authorized to provide vaccinations in Ohio, California, Kentucky and Utah, and similar legislation is pending in New Jersey, according to the AOA.

California Begins to Train

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

“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. “Optometrists are particularly helpful in filling the vaccine gap since we care for patients who do not annually see a physician.”1

Many CA optometrists are already trained to administer vaccines as part of a 2018 law that allows certified ODs to administer some immunizations.1 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. To qualify, ODs must also complete a COVID-19 training program developed by the California Department of Public Health.

The order also allows certified optometrists to provide diphenhydramine by injection for the treatment of a severe allergic reaction. All optometrists are equipped to respond to allergic reactions and are legally authorized to administer epinephrine, according to the COA.

The California Department of Public Health offers the pharmacy course on a regular basis. Ketchum will also be hosting the training course on March 21, and Western University will offer the class at some point in the next month.

Until more vaccines become available, most state optometrists are planning to volunteer at mass vaccination sites or local optometry colleges, explains COA Executive Director Kristine Shultz.

Utah Practices Prepare

Ian Whipple, OD, president of the Utah Optometric Association, looked into the possibility of administering COVID-19 shots at his practice, but says 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 says.

Dr. Whipple’s practice sees 5,000 patients a year, which means 5,000 fewer patients will need to seek out the vaccine from their medical doctors or state health departments, reducing the burden on the healthcare system as a whole.

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 says.

Ohio Emergency Vaccine Provision Puts ODs on the Frontline

An urgent call for volunteer medical professionals from Ohio’s public health emergency program recruited ODs as part of the effort to support its COVID-19 vaccination campaign.2

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.2

In 2014, the Ohio Optometric Association successfully advocated for inclusion in a new law that granted legal authority for the state’s Department of Health to temporarily expand eligible vaccine administrators, normally prohibited by scope limitations, during a declared emergency.2

National Push for the Profession

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.

According to the AOA, 99% 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.

One month into the pandemic, ODs across the country provided urgent and emergency care to roughly 206,000 individuals, the AOA cites. Doctors of optometry also reported 60% of patients would have otherwise sought care at an emergency department or urgent care center when such facilities were taxed with COVID-19 cases. For these efforts, state administrations generally agreed to include optometry among the initial distribution phases, the AOA said in a statement.

1. COA applauds decision to allow optometrists to administer COVID-19. California Optometric Association.  February 12, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.

2. Ohio activates eligible doctors for COVID-19 vaccine administration, AOA focuses new relief efforts. American Optometric Association. February 11, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.