Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, tensions remain high, as many Americans anxiously await their turn to receive the much-desired COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, the state of Illinois ranks toward the bottom in mass vaccination efforts based on the percentage of vaccines available.1 The reason why Illinois is not faring well in immunization distribution is because there are simply not enough vaccinators to administer the COVID-19 vaccines to residents.
DENTAL HYGIENISTS WANT TO HELP
Licensed dental hygienists are preventive care champions—not only in matters of oral health, but in the ongoing fight against COVID-19. The Illinois Dental Hygienists’ Association (IDHA) has worked hard to support the state’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Ultimately, we have been disappointed, as state leaders in Illinois have overlooked licensed dental hygienists as volunteer COVID-19 vaccinators.
On December 17, 2020, the IDHA wrote a letter to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, on behalf of the more than 9,000 dental hygienists in Illinois, requesting that he enlist the assistance of licensed dental hygienists to participate in the mass vaccination efforts.2 As stated in the Illinois Department of Public Health’s SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Planning Guide: “To accomplish the goal of providing SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccines to enough of the population to elicit herd immunity, as supply of vaccines permits, the State of Illinois will ensure expanded scopes of practice for healthcare licenses, as necessary to allow certain medical professionals the opportunity to assist in the mass vaccination campaign, when working under the authority of the local public health jurisdiction or a health care entity.”3
In addition, the Illinois Dental Practice Act (225 ILCS 25/54.2) allows dental hygienists to provide this much-needed emergency public service in the law as defined under “dental responder.” The act defines a dental responser as “a dentist or dental hygienist who is a dental responder is deemed to be acting within the bounds of his or her license when providing disaster immunizations and mobile and humanitarian care during a declared, local, state, or national emergency.”4
ILLINOIS LEADERS CONTINUE TO OVERLOOK REGISTERED DENTAL HYGIENISTS WHO ARE EQUALLY OR MORE QUALIFIED TO PROVIDE COVID-19 VACCINATIONS
In early January 2021, the IDHA worked to help pass House Resolution (HR) 0954, which garnered the support of 22 legislative sponsors. HR0954 mentions that the secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations was authorized to take certain actions to increase the number of licensed professionals responding to the disaster (named within the public health emergency declared by Illinois Governor Pritzker on March 9, 2020).5 Supporters of HR0954 urged the governor and Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations secretary to sign the Amended Emergency Proclamation that allowed “Just in Time” training for both dental hygienists and dentists to participate in the mass vaccination efforts throughout the State of Illinois.5 Unfortunately, HR0954 did not get past the floor during the lame duck session at the end of the legislative year on January 13, 2021.
Shortly after HR0954 died in the legislative process, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations signed the Amended Emergency Proclamation, but removed dental hygienists as vaccinators. The IDHA continues to encourage this amendment to expand dental hygienists’ scope of practice to be included as COVID-19 vaccinators.
At press time, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations has expanded the scope of practice for dentists, pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians, enabling them to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.6 Sadly, Illinois leaders continue to overlook registered dental hygienists—who are equally or more qualified to provide COVID-19 vaccinations. Illinois dental hygienists already provide local and block anesthesia to their patients every day.
POLICIES DIFFER ACROSS THE UNITED STATES
Other states have enabled dental hygienists to provide COVID-19 vaccines, such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington, Idaho, Kentucky, South Carolina, and California.7–9
Dental hygienists in Illinois who are licensed to provide anesthetic injections are ready, willing, and able to volunteer to do our part to alleviate the COVID-19 pandemic. It appears Illinois leadership does not recognize licensed dental hygienists as part of the qualified healthcare team, and are missing the opportunity to engage more than 9,000 available healthcare providers who are qualified to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Adams K, Anderson M. States ranked by percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered: March 16. Available at: beckershospitalreview.com/public-health/states-ranked-by-percentage-of-covid-19-vaccines-administered.html. Accessed March 16, 2021.
- llinois General Assembly. Illinois Compiled Statutes. Available at: ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1296. Accessed March 16, 2021.
- Illinois Department of Public Health. SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Planning Guide. Available at: dph.illinois.gov/covid19/vaccination-plan. Accessed March 16, 2021.
- Illinois Dental Hygienists’ Association. IDHA Sends Letter to Governor Pritzker and IDPH Requesting Expanded Functions to Administer Vaccinations. Available at: idha.wildapricot.org/news/9428708. Accessed March 16, 2021.
- State of Illinois Coronavirus Response. Vaccine FAQs. Available at: coronavirus.illinois.gov/s/vaccine-faqs. Accessed March 16, 2021.
- Illinois General Assembly. Full Text of HR0954. Available at: ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=&SessionId=108&GA=101&DocTypeId=HR&DocNum=954&GAID=15&LegID=127647&SpecSess=&Session=. Accessed March 16, 2021.
- American Dental Hygienists’ Association. COVID-19 Vaccine Administration by Dental Hygienists. Available at: adha.org/resources-docs/COVID-19_Vaccine_Administration_by_DH.pdf. Accessed March 16, 2021.
- California Dental Association. California RDHs approved to administer COVID-19 vaccine under direct supervision of dentist. Available at: cda.org/Home/News-and-Events/Newsroom/Article-Details/california-rdhs-approved-to-administer-covid-19-vaccine-under-direct-supervision-of-dentist?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email. Accessed March 16, 2021.
- University of Washington School of Dentistry. COVID-19 Vaccine Administration for Dentists and Dental Hygienists. Available at: asoft200201.accrisoft.com/wsdha/clientuploads/COVID19/2021-01.21_UWSOD_Vaccine_Training_Modules.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0UbuPTWSwrY7Lp5_4wRFZCYe0PuZ3snvKjz9MHMRWzTpat9tOwDtiiKUo. Accessed March 16, 2021.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. April 2021;19(4):14-15.