Retail pharmacy steps up to help battle Calif. pertussis outbreak

LOS ANGELES —Just days after state health officials reported that California is on pace for the worst epidemic of pertussis, or whooping cough, in more than 50 years and nine infants had already died, retail pharmacy wasted no time in stepping up to the forefront, demonstrating, once again, the critical role that pharmacy plays in U.S. health care.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial illness spread by coughs and sneezes. Unimmunized or incompletely immunized young infants are particularly vulnerable. Health officials strongly are urging that children be vaccinated against the disease, and parents, family members and caregivers of infants get a booster shot.

As of Sept. 21, the most recent data available as of press time, there were 4,223 cases of the illness reported for a state rate of 10.8 cases per 100,000 people. Of that number, 4,193 of the reported cases experienced disease onset in 2010, according to the California Department of Public Health. Nine deaths have been reported, of which eight were Hispanic infants.

This marks the most cases reported in 55 years, when 4,949 cases were reported in 1955—and the highest incidence in 48 years, when a rate of 10.9 cases per 100,000 people was reported in 1962. Previously, the peak was in 2005, when there were 3,182 cases reported, according to the California Department of Public Health.

While the epidemic is no doubt tragic, it does give rise to another opportunity for retail pharmacy to demonstrate the critical role it plays in public health crisis management. In response to the epidemic, Walgreens announced on Sept. 17 that its pharmacists in California are offering pertussis immunizations (tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis-Tdap vaccine) at more than 150 select stores throughout the state. Walgreens pharmacists in the state can administer immunizations to anyone ages 9 years and older. With more than 575 stores throughout California, Walgreens will continue to add locations that can administer the whooping cough vaccine.

On Sept. 27, Rite Aid announced that its pharmacists at more than 500 stores in the state could vaccinate anyone age 7 years and older against whooping cough. “Helping protect against whooping cough in California is just another example of how convenient neighborhood Rite Aid pharmacists can help the community stay healthy,” stated Robert Thompson, Rite Aid EVP pharmacy.

As of 2009, the number of pharmacy outlets in California stood at 1,957 independents, 2,174 traditional chains, 645 supermarkets and 557 mass merchandisers, according to NACDS.

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