The Hartford and Fairfield County Medical Associations are asking Gov. Ned Lamont to draft an executive order that would allow medical assistants to administer vaccinations.
In the letter from the Fairfield County Medical Association, the association’s president, Craig Olin, said that allowing medical assistants to administer vaccinations would help address the anticipated demand for the COVID vaccine.
“We anticipate that medical practices in Fairfield County and across the state will be deluged with requests for the vaccine,” read the letter.
Mark Thompson, executive director of the Hartford and Fairfield County Medical Associations, echoed this, saying that having medical assistants perform the vaccination frees up doctors and nurses to concentrate on more complicated tasks.
Max Reiss, spokesman for the Governor’s Office, said that the state Department of Health had been in contact with Connecticut physicians about the issue, and that they were reviewing it.
Reiss also pointed out the Executive Order the governor signed on Dec. 7 allowing pharmacists to administer vaccines with emergency use authorization, which he called “a clear indication the governor is open to coming up with solutions to maximize access to the vaccine.”
Medical assistants assist doctors, physician’s assistants and nurses by helping to prepare equipment for procedures and collecting patient information. In Connecticut, they are not permitted to administer medications, diagnose or perform radiology. A medical assistant in a degree program spends 1-2 years taking courses in biology, laboratory procedures, medical law and office management. They are not licensed, but they take an exam to earn national accreditation.
Only two states – Connecticut and New York – prohibit medical assistants from administering vaccinations.
The Connecticut Department of Health website lists approximately 900 medical assistants certified by the American Association of Medical Assistants, and about 780 certified by the National HealthCareer Association.
Rebecca Rivera, president of the Connecticut Society of Medical Assistants, said that she was “super confident” of the ability of medical assistants to help administer the vaccine. She sees it as a critical service that they can offer.
“Do you know how crazy this vaccination is going to be?” she said.
According to Thompson, the presidents of both the Hartford and Fairfield County medical associations wrote separate letters to the governor asking for the executive order.
This is not the first time this question has arisen. In 2017, a bill was brought up in the state House of Representatives that would have permitted medical assistants to administer vaccinations. The bill passed in the House, receiving the support of community health centers, physicians and the Connecticut Hospital Association. However, the bill was never passed by the Senate.
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said she believed that the COVID vaccine was particularly challenging to administer because of the necessary ultra-cold storage temperatures to preserve its effectiveness. However, she said she would support having medical assistants administer routine immunizations and the flu vaccine, which would free up other medical professionals to administer the COVID shot.
Nursing groups like the Connecticut Nurses Association and the Coalition of Advanced Practice Nurses have pushed back against the idea of having medical assistants administer vaccinations. In testimony against the 2017 bill, they argued that medical assistants did not have sufficient training to administer vaccinations.
“Giving inoculation is one of the safest things you can do,” said Thompson. He pointed out that patients, who have no training, frequently self-inject with things like insulin.
Rivera said that certified medical assistants were “highly educated” and that they learned to give injections by practicing on dummies, the same way that nurses learn.
The letter from the Fairfield County Medical Association also pointed out that many medical practices do not have registered nurses on staff, and instead rely on medical assistants to perform tasks that require less training.
Dr. Lynn Rapsilber, chair of the Connecticut Coalition of Advanced Practice Nurses, said the coalition would support certified medical assistants being able to vaccinate patients as long as certain procedures were followed: that they be supervised by a nurse or physician, that there be a written policy for administering the vaccines, and that they only be able to administer the vaccines to legal adults.
“This would be a tremendous help to medical practices,” said Thompson.
“It’s doing a service to the public,” said Rivera. “I want to see everything go back to the way it was before. Maybe better.”
This story has been updated to include comments by Rebecca Rivera, president of the Connecticut Society of Medical Assistants.