Vaccinations a step in expanding pharmacist role

Along with major paradigm shifts in how people communicate, read and do business, the way they receive healthcare services is changing dramatically, and retail pharmacies are at the front line.

In no area is this more true than vaccinations. According to a report released in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the largest percentage of adults (39.8%) received their flu vaccinations during the 2010-2011 influenza season at physicians’ offices, but a growing number of people are opting to receive them at retail pharmacies instead. In the 1998-1999 season, only 5% got their vaccinations at pharmacies. But by the 2010-2011 season, the rate had reached 18.4%.

This dramatic rise is due largely to the ability of pharmacists in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to administer vaccinations, with Maine as the last state to join the list in 2009. Retail pharmacy chains have responded by rolling out pharmacist-administered flu vaccinations on a grand scale, with Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS now offering them at all of their stores, in addition to regional chains.

Another major catalyst was the H1N1 influenza pandemic. “Community pharmacy worked very closely with the federal government at that time and with the CDC,” National Association of Chain Drug Stores Foundation president Edith Rosato told Drug Store News, calling retail pharmacies’ collaboration with the government a “watershed event.” “There was so much pressure to ensure that patients would be able to get the vaccine, so the government reached out to community pharmacy and used us as a distribution point.”

A recent study published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice called pharmacists “an integral part of the nation’s ‘first line resource’ for health and wellness, and can extend the reach for public health initiatives.” NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson responded to the report by saying it drove home the message that pharmacists play a critical role in the healthcare delivery system.

In many ways, it would seem natural that pharmacies have become a major destination for flu vaccinations. Patients can walk in, pay a small fee and receive the vaccination instead of having to make an appointment, as they would have to at a doctor’s office. In addition, pharmacy retailers are well positioned to offer vaccinations thanks to their role as shopping destinations. Rite Aid, for example, offers customers who receive vaccinations at its stores coupon books with more than $100 in savings, while members of the retailer’s Wellness+ loyalty card program receive 25 reward points. In September, Winn-Dixie offered Customer Reward Card members who received its vaccinations a discount on shot and flu-prevention groceries — fruit, orange juice, hand sanitizer, wipes and tissues — worth $12.71.

But pharmacists’ clinical roles look likely to increase even further. NACDS currently is lobbying state governments to allow vaccination of younger children, as well as lobbying for the ability to provide other vaccinations, including shingles, hepatitis A and B, measles-mumps-
rubella and travel vaccines. Many states already allow pharmacists to administer shingles vaccines, while Seattle-based Bartell Drugs has taken advantage of regulations in Washington state that allow pharmacists working under physicians’ supervision to administer travel vaccinations.

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