As the coronavirus pandemic continues to shape the work of America’s healthcare systems, our nation’s medical communities have been at the core of our response, working to chart a path back to health for communities across Pennsylvania and the United States.

While the timelines of vaccine development and clinical trials remain uncertain, what is clear is that early preparation is invaluable. To ensure an efficient delivery of any forthcoming COVID-19 treatment or vaccines, we will have to mobilize and coordinate all of our healthcare resources and high-powered transportation networks.

Fortunately, we already have the infrastructure to do so, and it begins with our pharmacies and doctors and the system of healthcare distribution experts who power them.

Pharmacies form a critical part of the American healthcare system. In my former position with the Pennsylvania Pharmacy Association, I saw for years the unique role of pharmacies across the commonwealth and how they benefit public health and improve the speed, information, and reliability of patient care.

In part, my work often revolved around the positioning of pharmacies within our healthcare system, ensuring that pharmacies — typically the last stop on a globe-spanning network of pharmaceutical suppliers — were bolstered by strong support from our government and the supply chain.

Today, government and supply chain partner support has taken a new shape in order to continually adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. When reinforced by informed public policy, collaboration between pharmacies and distributors make our community pharmacy counters a critical tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the most patient-facing part of the healthcare supply chain, pharmacies dot our state and nation, serving as the first line of defense against illness for our patients. And, when a vaccine is ready to be distributed, pharmacies will offer a community-level location to facilitate testing and vaccination.

The work of pharmacies to prepare for this role, alongside the distributors who stock their shelves, will ensure that those in every community across the country are able to access the vaccine.

Distributors’ commitment to medication and treatment access for every patient, regardless of the size of their city or the brand of their pharmacy, is visible in their work throughout this pandemic. Over the course of the crisis, they’ve constantly improved their distribution networks and helped frontline facilities innovate and plan in the face of growing challenges.

As demand increased and our healthcare system became strained, distributors identified alternatives, helping to assure those with urgent medical needs could still head to the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions.

COVID-19 has created extreme challenges for our entire country, but healthcare supply chain leaders have worked to shift inventories, track the movement of critical medications, and ensure that even small, rural pharmacies and hospitals have access to pharmaceutical products.

Together, pharmacies and distributors form a net that encompasses our nation.

With collaboration throughout the private sector and partnership with federal COVID-19 response leaders, we can make pharmacies a vital tool in the fight against COVID-19 and restore the health, freedom, and security for which Americans love our nation.