License Expired? No Problem, Uncle Sam Wants You to Vaccinate

Alicia Ault

January 29, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The federal government has issued a directive that aims to bolster the COVID-19 vaccination workforce, by letting physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals return to work even if their license has expired, as long as it expired within the past 5 years and was previously in good standing.

The Biden administration is aiming to get as many COVID-19 shots into American arms as possible — and quickly.

"As vaccine supply is made more widely available over the coming months, having additional vaccinators at the ready will help providers and state health departments meet the demand for vaccine and protect their communities more quickly," Norris Cochran, acting secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said in a statement.

The administration has set a goal of 100 million shots given in its first 100 days but has acknowledged the significant barriers in both supply and resources for vaccine administration.

HHS has now amended the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act to entice people qualified to vaccinate to assist in the effort. The PREP Act has been amended five times previously since March 2020, in part to provide liability protection for use of COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines, and to extend the pool of those eligible to test and administer vaccines to include pharmacists. The PREP Act and its amendments preempt state laws.

The latest amendment:

  • Authorizes any physician, registered nurse, or practical nurse whose license or certification expired within the past 5 years to prescribe, dispense, and/or administer COVID-19 vaccines in any state or US territory, so long as their license or certification was active and in good standing prior to the date it went inactive

  • Authorizes any physician, registered nurse, or practical nurse who is licensed or certified in one state to prescribe, dispense, and/or administer COVID-19 vaccines in any other state or US territory

  • Requires those healthcare professionals to complete Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 vaccine training

  • Requires an on-site observation period by a currently practicing healthcare professional for those who are not currently practicing or whose license or certification is expired

HHS estimates that some 160,000 physicians and 350,000 registered nurses and practical nurses are currently inactive.

The American Medical Association has issued a guide for clinicians who want to volunteer to assist with the COVID-19 efforts and has also issued guidance for retired physicians looking to rejoin the workforce.

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