WAG’s immunization campaign honored by health community

DEERFIELD, Ill. —Community pharmacy, the quiet giant of the U.S. healthcare network, is at last attracting more notice from health professionals and policy-makers.

Nationwide recognition of retail pharmacy’s critical value as a community-based healthcare resource continues to mount. If recent developments are any guide, pharmacy-based programs for patient education, preventive health and wellness, immunizations and health screenings finally seem to be getting the attention of a fraught U.S. healthcare system.

The latest eureka moment came on May 18, when the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, co-sponsored by the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, honored Walgreens at its annual gathering in Scottsdale, Ariz., for waging what the groups described as the nation’s most effective and widespread corporate campaign to prevent the spread of H1N1 and other strains of the influenza virus. The summit, a broad coalition of public and private healthcare entities, bestowed 1-of-4 2010 NIVS Immunization Excellence awards on the 7,500-store drug chain for contributions made to Americans’ preventive health through its massive immunization program during the 2009-2010 flu season. The awards honor “the value and extraordinary contributions of individuals and organizations toward improved adult, and/or childhood, influenza vaccination rates within their communities,” according to the organization.

Behind Walgreens’ recognition: a huge, nationwide immunization and outreach campaign. “Pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants administered [more than] 7 million seasonal and H1N1 influenza vaccines across more than 7,000 stores during the 2009-2010 influenza season,” the NIVS noted. The campaign underscored a “commitment to improve public health through ensuring the availability of an easy and convenient source of information and patient care services,” the group added.

Walgreens’ saturation-style flu shot program was a remarkable example of the power of community pharmacy to deliver a needed health service in thousands of neighborhood locations on a consistent basis, and it spoke volumes about pharmacy’s real value as a convenient, accessible source for professional health care and disease prevention.

“Utilizing the company’s and its employees’ knowledge, skills and resources, Walgreens implemented a campaign that included collaboration with local county health departments in all 50 states and territories, state and federal government agencies, CDC, Influenza Summit partners, the Association of State and Territory Health Officers, and the pharmacy and medical communities,” NIVS noted. “The reach of their services included assisted living facilities, religious centers, shopping malls, schools, community centers and other locales.”

The public awareness and communications outreach accompanying the flu shot program, the group added, comprise “the largest public health initiative in the company’s 109-year history.”

“They brought CDC’s messages about the importance of immunizations to the public through various national television outlets, including The ‘Dr. Oz Show,’ as well as national radio, print and other media,” NIVS reported. “Their ‘Arm Yourself for Ones You Love’ campaign involved the company’s more than 70,000 health service providers, and in particular its more than 18,500 immunization-trained pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.”

In addition, the Summit noted, “the company also instituted a program aimed at increasing immunization rates of its employees and their families. Recognizing the impact on individuals without the ability to pay for receiving the influenza vaccination, Walgreens instituted a campaign to provide up to $1 million of seasonal flu shots for uninsured adults.”

Three other health entities also were honored with national awards for their immunization efforts. Besides Walgreens, those recognized included:

The Palm Beach County Health Department, which won top honors in the area of Overall Season Activities;

Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, in the Healthcare Personnel Campaign category; and

The South Dakota Department of Health, in the category of Immunization Coalitions/Public Health/Community Campaign.

The summit is composed of more than 400 members representing more than 100 public and private organizations with an interest in addressing and resolving influenza and influenza vaccine issues, according to the group. For more information, contact the summit’s Web site at PreventInfluenza.com.

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