As vaccine supply expands, Washington’s dentists and hygienists plan to help immunize patients, and optometrists have lobbied to join in on the effort, too.
The state’s Dental Quality Assurance Commission on Jan. 7 finalized guidance allowing dentists to perform COVID-19 vaccinations. Dental hygienists will be allowed to administer these vaccines under supervision.
As the pace of vaccination grows, state leaders in dentistry expect the statewide effort to become an all-hands-on-deck effort, and they’ve been preparing for months to ensure they could help.
“Our objective was to have dentistry be part of the public health effort to get the vaccinations done. If the state is receiving thousands of doses of vaccine, but you don’t have people to administer them, you’re going to waste some doses,” said Dr. Gary Chiodo, the dean of the University of Washington School of Dentistry. “That becomes more critical as you move out of Seattle and King County and into rural areas.”
Dentists in Washington cannot administer other vaccines. The dentistry school and the Washington State Dental Association led the effort to become approved to administer vaccines for COVID-19.
Dentists will need to complete about three to four hours of training, including some hands-on training from health care providers who are currently performing COVID-19 vaccinations. The dentistry school is in the process of finalizing the development of the training sessions, which will be shared with dentists statewide.
Chiodo said he does not envision that dental offices will become hubs for vaccination, but instead that dentists will work or volunteer at mass vaccination sites.
“The MDs and the nurses are trying to take care of all the COVID cases in the hospital. Well, why not have well-qualified people like dentists out there doing the vaccinations and shouldering that big responsibility?” Chiodo said.
Dr. Sara Gordon, a professor and associate dean at UW’s dentistry school who helped develop the training program, said dentists perform complicated injections regularly and have the training to respond to medical emergencies that could come up at a vaccination clinic.
“Your dentist is doing minor surgery every day,” Gordon said. “I don’t think any other doctors give more injections than dentists — 40 to 50 injections a day.”
Washington has approximately 5,000 practicing dentists, said Bracken Killpack, the dental association’s executive director. At least 14 states are allowing dentists to administer COVID-19 vaccines, according to the American Dental Association.
Optometrists also are seeking the ability to vaccinate against the novel coronavirus in Washington.
The Optometric Physicians of Washington sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee on Dec. 8 requesting he allow optometrists to administer vaccines, which is not part of optometry’s approved scope of practice in Washington.
“Our network of membership could be utilized to administer the vaccine, which would enhance convenient access for patients, relieving pressure on and waiting times at other vaccination locations,” wrote Drs. Judy Chan, the organization’s president, and Cynthia Ruggeiro, who chairs its COVID-19 task force. “We believe that the pandemic emergency warrants you taking executive action.”
Chan said the optometry association has a class lined up next month on administering vaccines, should the governor give approval.
“So far, we have not heard anything,” Chan said.