Walgreens positions itself as a go-to for pertussis concerns

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT The heartbreaking news is that California is battling an unnerving whooping cough epidemic that unfortunately already has claimed the lives of nine babies. But the silver lining -- if there is one -- lies in the fact that this gives rise to another opportunity for retail pharmacy to demonstrate the critical role it plays in public health crisis management.

(THE NEWS: Calif. health officials address 'whooping cough' outbreak. For the full story, click here)

As state health officials are urging Californians to be immunized in hopes of stemming the pertussis outbreak that is sweeping throughout the state, more than 4,000 cases have been reported -- nine deaths have been reported of which eight were Hispanic infants. Eight fatalities were infants less than 2 months of age at the time of the disease's onset and had not received any doses of pertussis-containing vaccine; the ninth was 2 months of age and had received the first dose of DTaP only 15 days prior to the disease onset, according to the California Department of Public Health. Most of the infant cases in 2010 have occurred in infants younger than 3 months of age. Meanwhile, the majority of adolescent cases are in 10- to 11-year-olds.

Because children are most vulnerable to this highly contagious disease, health officials are urging anyone who is in contact with children to be immunized, and for those children of proper age to be immunized.

As we've seen with regard to the seasonal flu, H1N1 and other public health concerns, retail pharmacies are in an ideal position to assist in such matters given their convenient locations and hours of operation. This fact once again is evident, as Walgreens has announced that its pharmacists in select California stores can administer whooping cough vaccines.

Currently, 150 Walgreens locations are offering the vaccine, but the retailer has 575 stores throughout the state and will be working to add more stores to the list. 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 the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

Once again, retail pharmacy is positioning itself along the frontlines of health care.

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