Doctors of optometry in New Hampshire earn authorization to provide vaccines to public

August 17, 2023
The public can now get their vaccinations for COVID-19, shingles and flu from doctors of optometry in New Hampshire, after the New Hampshire Optometric Association helped secure passage of a bill giving them that authority. The new law goes into effect Sept. 3.
New Hampshire state flag against sky

Doctors of optometry practicing in New Hampshire will no longer be sidetracked—and frustrated—in the event of future public health emergencies such as COVID-19.

With the signing of S.B. 200 on Aug. 4 by Gov. Chris Sununu, the Granite State’s doctors of optometry now have the authority to administer vaccines via injection to patients in their practices. At the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, doctors of optometry there were not able to provide vaccinations under state law. In fact, they were strictly prohibited from providing vaccinations. With COVID-19 still a public health threat and predictions that the world is likely to experience another outbreak similar in proportion within the next 25 years, doctors of optometry were seeking to have the prohibition lifted so they could provide further access to patients.

The New Hampshire law takes effect Sept. 3.

“The signing of S.B. 200 means recognition that doctors of optometry are qualified to administer FDA-approved vaccines by way of injection,” Erica Griffin, O.D., president of the New Hampshire Optometric Association (NHOA), says. “Giving optometrists the authority to administer vaccines, including COVID-19, influenza and shingles vaccines, is a great step for optometrists being included in the greater health care community. The bill also cleans up a restriction on treating disorders of the lacrimal gland with topical and oral antibiotics and analgesics.”

S.B. 200: Why scope expansion is good for patients, optometrists

As the public’s primary eye care providers, doctors of optometry say over and over that it’s not uncommon for their patients to see their optometrists more often than they do their primary care physician. It’s that frequency that led the NHOA and its member optometrists to push for authorization in New Hampshire to provide vaccines—that and an all-hands-on-deck call in 2020 for health care workers to administer the vaccines. A number of states that had only designated certain professions to provide the vaccines extended authorizations to other health care providers amid the rapid spread and the demand for more providers to vaccinate against the deadly coronavirus.

But optometrists were not eligible in New Hampshire. And at the time, it was close to the end of the legislative session. Previously the statute prohibited doctors of optometry from administering medications by injection with an exception for anaphylaxis.

Pharmacy technicians, medical assistants, licensed practical nurses and dental hygienists were able to provide vaccinations. The law did not prohibit them from providing vaccines. Doctors of optometry were ready for the next legislative session.

“After tireless dedication and fortitude, NHOA and New Hampshire doctors of optometry should be proud of this important step forward for the profession and patients across the state,” says AOA President Ronald L. Benner, O.D. “This win is a clear example of the expanding recognition of our primary eye health and vision care role and demonstrates the common-sense progress we can accomplish when we come together to fight for what is best for our patients.” 

Says Dr. Griffin: “The ability for licensed optometrists to provide vaccines means more choice for patients, and possibly more convenience, as optometrists often have patients who have their regular eye exam but do not have or don’t see a primary care physician.”

Relationships key to success

Initially, but not surprisingly, NHOA encountered some opposition from ophthalmology, which argued to legislators that optometry should stay in its lane. Legislators saw right through this message and the bill passed the Senate on a 5-0 vote out of committee and a voice vote on the Senate floor, Dr. Griffin says. It passed safely through the House, despite several proposed amendments. 

What does the NHOA attribute to its success? Relationships and logic.

“We’ve been building our network over many years and have good, established relationships within the legislature,” Dr. Griffin says. “But, at the end of the day, our ask was logical; we stuck to the facts and addressed training and patient access. We pointed out that we cannot do this due to an anomaly in our statute, meaning someone with only a high school education could administer vaccines but an independent practicing, doctorate-level health provider cannot. There was no disagreement among the legislators. 

It was very frustrating for me and other optometrists on the front line during the pandemic being under-utilized during the COVID-19 vaccination pushes, particularly when President Biden gave the go-ahead at the federal level for optometrists to administer vaccines. This new law is progress toward being allowed to use our skills and training for the greater benefit of our patients.”

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AOA SGRC Regional Advocacy Meetings are supported by Johnson & Johnson Vision, Lumenis, the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety and SightSciences.

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