Workgroup urges federal, state officials to include oral health professionals in COVID-19 response

The oral health workforce has been significantly underused in the response to the COVID-19 national emergency and the issue can be remedied at both the federal and state levels to help curb the spread of the outbreak, according to a March 8 letter from the Oral Health Pandemic Response Workgroup, which includes the ADA as a signatory.

“State scope of practice rules and common liability restrictions are preventing oral health professionals in many states from administering COVID-19 tests and vaccines,” the coalition said. “These clinicians are eager to be fully engaged in the national effort to end this pandemic and it is smart policy to give them that opportunity.”

The workgroup sent the letter to federal officials — the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service, the acting assistant secretary for health and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  — and 39 governors in states where dentists and qualified hygienists aren’t currently authorized to administer the COVID vaccine, according to the coalition.

The statement recommended action at two levels, including:

  • The Biden administration should take executive action to provide oral health professionals with immunity from liability for administering the COVID-19 vaccine. “This can be accomplished either by amending the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act declaration to explicitly include dentists and dental hygienists as ‘qualified persons,’ or by [U.S. Department of Health & Human Services] guidance extending PREP Act protections to oral health professionals, as was recently done for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.” (After the letter was sent, HHS said March 12 it would be using its authority under the PREP Act to add additional categories of vaccinators, including dentists, as well as dental students who have the proper training and professional supervision, to those providers authorized to administer COVID-19 vaccines.)
  • Governors should exercise their public health emergency authority to issue directives allowing dentists and dental hygienists to administer COVID-19 tests and vaccines.

The coalition stated that the pandemic has exposed and worsened long-standing health and social inequities across the country, with many disproportionately likely to face challenges in getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We urge federal and state policy makers to include this country’s 420,000 oral health professionals fully in the all-hands-on-deck COVID-19 response efforts,” the letter said. “It is time to recognize them as the resource they are, eliminate liability hurdles, give them access to the vaccine themselves, and include them in the local information flow about testing and vaccines. They can be especially impactful in hard-to-reach areas and with people at the highest risk of experiencing the devastating impacts of this disease. Together, we can save lives and set the stage for repairing the economy. There is not a moment to waste.”

The Oral Health Pandemic Response Workgroup is an ad hoc gathering of executives across the dental landscape, including the ADA. Signatories included the
American Dental Hygienists Association, Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, Hispanic Dental Association, National Dental Association and the National Rural Health Association.

Since the pandemic began, the ADA has urged the federal government to expand the workforce of COVID-19 vaccinators to include dentists. The Association sent a Feb. 11 letter to HHS on this issue and the ADA was also part of a September 2020 coalition letter asking for the same liability protection.

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