Pharmacists could be key to Wash. state fight against pertussis epidemic

Rite Aid, Walgreens already administer Tdap vaccines

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, once was among the most feared childhood diseases and was a frequent killer of young children. Today, it's mostly under control, a testament to the importance of vaccinations.

(THE NEWS: Pertussis cases increase tenfold in Washington over May 2011. For the full story, click here )

State authorities in Washington might want to take note as that state struggles with a serious epidemic of the disease. They're doing what they can, but with budget cuts making the job of stanching the epidemic more challenging, this could be a good time for pharmacies and retail clinics, with their ability to provide immunizations for a low cost, to step in — to save both lives and money for the state. Walgreens already has, announcing earlier this month that it would provide the Tdap (tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis) booster vaccine at all 129 of its stores in the state in order to combat the epidemic. In February, Rite Aid announced it would make the vaccine available at more than 3,200 of its stores nationwide.

While pharmacists in every state have been able to administer vaccinations for some time, Washington has been a leader in this regard. For example, Seattle-based retail pharmacy chain Bartell Drugs has been taking advantage of state laws that allow pharmacists to administer travel vaccinations for such diseases as hepatitis B under agreements with local physicians. Washington pharmacy retailers once again may have an opportunity to provide leadership while the state's hands are mostly tied.

According to published reports, another possible reason for the rise in pertussis cases has been parents who opt out of getting their kids vaccinated. It needs to be made clear to parents that vaccines prevent diseases, and serious complications from them are rare, while scary tales of kids developing autism and other serious diseases from vaccines have been exposed as false. As the most accessible healthcare professionals, pharmacists have an opportunity here as well, to educate parents about the importance of getting their kids vaccinated.

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