It’s hard to believe that The Navigators launched a year ago. And what a year it has been!
While this all-volunteer group may have started as a way to fight back against the pandemic, its mission—increasing access to vaccinations for everyone—transcends the current moment.
Born out of a conversation between Todd Watkins of STChealth and Stacy Hall of the Louisiana Office of Public Health, there was no time like the beginning of an unprecedented global pandemic to start The Navigators. It wasn’t long before the group grew to include former Assistant Surgeon General Pamela Schweitzer and Jason Briscoe, Director of Pharmacy Operations for Discount Drug Mart. Fast forward and The Navigators have grown extensively, representing every state in the country, as well as dozens of pharmacy chains and a long list of other immunization and pharmacy associations.
A LOOK BACK
In honor of the one year anniversary of The Navigators, we spoke to some of The Navigators about their past year with the organization, including John Beckner, RPh, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives at NCPA; Joni Cover, JD, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, NASPA; and Jason Briscoe, PharmD, RPh, Director of Pharmacy Operations at Discount Drug Mart.
TT: What made you decide to join The Navigators?
Jason Briscoe: When STChealth hosted and facilitated the very first Pharmacy-Public Health Partners meeting, I happened to be the first person from the pharmacy side to provide commentary. Following the meeting, Mike and Todd reached out to gauge my interest in representing pharmacy as one of the original Navigators. No arm twisting was required, as I have a lot of respect for STChealth and a lot of interest in the role immunizations play in keeping us all healthy.
TT: What makes The Navigators Special?
John Beckner: The Navigators represents a unique effort to bring public health and pharmacy together. The Navigators have played a key role in bringing public health and pharmacy together by fostering a true spirit of collaboration. Hopefully, this will continue beyond the pandemic.
Joni Cover: Sharing of information. Each person has a perspective of and experience with COVID-19 that provides such valuable insight in how we can join our collective voices to improve public health during the pandemic. I always learn something valuable on each call.
Jason Briscoe: No other group I am aware of that focuses on pharmacy and public health partnerships…at least no group with such varied perspectives (practice setting; geographical footprint – national, regional, local; private health; public health). We’ve cultivated an environment that allows for free flowing conversations. Most weeks you’ll find cooperation and collaboration—without concern for competition.
TT: What have you enjoyed most about being a part of The Navigators?
John Beckner: have enjoyed hearing and learning about what other organizations and companies are doing—their challenges, best practices, etc. This has been invaluable.
Joni Cover: Getting to know The Navigators (virtually) and sharing experiences.
TT: What is your favorite thing The Navigators have done so far, and why?
Jason Briscoe: Helping to further drive home the value pharmacies can provide to communities, with pharmacists being the most accessible healthcare providers in our country. This pandemic will be a catalyst for pharmacists obtaining provider status, ultimately taking the gloves off for more of the patient care we can provide.
A LOOK BEYOND
TT: What are you looking forward to in The Navigators future?
John Beckner: Continued work to combat vaccine hesitancy. We may be approaching the most challenging time for that.
Joni Cover: The continuation of working together to improve the COVID-19 response.
TT: What projects do you plan to work on next?
John Beckner: I would like to see The Navigators focus on three areas: Vaccines for Children Program (VFC)*, preparing for the next pandemic or natural disaster, and helping people get back on track with routine immunizations.
Jason Briscoe: COVID-19 vaccine coadministration updates—as we are currently missing potential opportunities to close gaps with other vaccinations. This will be important to address ahead of August, when the administration of the flu vaccine begins.
TT: Is there anything else we should know about The Navigators?
John Beckner: Since its inception, The Navigators have been a steadying force in the eye of the pandemic storm! Kudos to STC, Pam, and others with a vision for the partnership of public health and pharmacy.
*Writer’s note: The Navigators are working to get pharmacies nationwide into the VFC, a national public health program that provides free access to immunizations for children whose families would otherwise be unable to afford to vaccinate them. While around 40,000 vaccination providers are enrolled in the program, only 68 of those are pharmacies. The Navigators are also working to expand access to the VFC to rural communities, combat vaccine reluctancy so more parents participate in the program, and make it easier for parents to enroll their children in the program.
“Being actively engaged with The Navigators for over a year has paid huge dividends in helping our organization anticipate, prepare and execute upon a once in a lifetime opportunity and a once in a lifetime responsibility in being activated as a COVID-19 vaccine provider,” Jason Briscoe reflects. “Our activation was not through the Federal Pharmacy Program, but rather our state via the Governor’s Office and the Department of Health. If it were not for our understanding of where each pathway could or would take us, we may not have been blessed with the chance to serve our state in multiple settings including all day, every day at every one of our community pharmacies.”
So what’s next for The Navigators? The possibilities are limitless, thanks to the group’s collaborative and outcome-driven approach. With no red tape to have to climb through, all are welcome to launch new projects as they please, with each member of The Navigators available as a resource.
“It used to be that people were waiting for help,” says Shreya Angana of The Navigators and STChealth. “But The Navigators do not wait for anybody.”
If you’re interested in learning more about The Navigators, visit www.navigatehealthnow.com.
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