While parents turn away from vaccines, U.S. pharmacies make them more accessible

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — In 2011, refusing to inoculate children against dangerous illnesses like measles, whooping cough and even the flu, borders on child abuse. This story should go a long way toward keeping a lot of kids healthy by educating their misguided parents—good news for retail pharmacy, which continues to expand its presence as the local community destination for common vaccinations.

(THE NEWS: MMR vaccine, autism link was fabricated, medical journal says. For the full story, click here)

Retail pharmacy certainly played a key role in addressing the recent outbreak of whooping cough in California this past fall. In response to that epidemic, Walgreens announced that its pharmacists in California were offering pertussis immunizations (tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis-Tdap vaccine) at select stores throughout the state. And more recently, Walgreens exemplified retail’s full potential capacity in administering vaccine to the general public as part of its alliance with the Department of Health and Human Services that offered free flu vaccinations to as many as 350,000 low-income and uninsured Americans.

HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius in September stated the new alliance with Walgreens was an “important new partnership with the department of HHS and [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to help increase flu vaccination rates across the country. … By making the flu shot more accessible for more Americans, we can prevent the flu from spreading, and certainly save lives.”

Make no mistake, there but for the grace of God goes the United States in terms of an outbreak of measles in this country. The United Kingdom, which, similarly to the United States, had eliminated the epidemic potentiality of measles, saw their vaccination rates dip to 80% of the population and is experiencing a measles outbreak again.

In the United States, there only has been a slight dip in vaccination rates, but still enough to cause concern among the healthcare professionals at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Between 2008 and 2009, MMR coverage fell from 92.1% down to 90%,” CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Anne Schuchat told reporters during a September 2010 press conference. “That might be a warning sign of larger drops to come,” she said. “You can still have communities with very large pockets of susceptible children. What we saw in 2008 were communities where certain schools had a large number of children who were unvaccinated when the virus was imported from other countries where measles still are very common. The virus could find a vulnerable population to spread in.”

She continued, “Vaccine-preventable diseases are everywhere around the world. We are lucky here in the U.S. that most of these are at record low levels. … With measles, we can never let down our guard in any community where there is a large number of susceptibles. You can see a measles outbreak. While we have been able to maintain our status as having eliminated the indigenous spread of measles, unfortunately, we saw a country like the United Kingdom, which had eliminated measles, unable to break the chains of transmission and now continuing to be facing a large outbreak.”

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