Study: Immunizations at pharmacy save employer healthcare dollars
Beyond the most obvious impetus for providing vaccines at the retail pharmacy level — it protects the public’s health by providing a more convenient option than making an appointment with the doctor — it also might help save money for employers.
A study recently published in the journal Cost Effectiveness and Resource Allocation found that when more vaccinations are administered in an alternate setting, such as a pharmacy, employers realize a greater cost benefit.
According to the study, in a typical U.S. population, an influenza immunization program will be cost-beneficial for employers when more than 37% of individuals receive vaccines in nontraditional settings, such as pharmacies. In a scenario where 50% of persons are vaccinated in nontraditional settings, estimated net savings were $6 per vaccinated employee or dependent. And immunization programs limited to a pharmacy setting produce an estimated net savings or $31 per vaccinated member.
“Although annual influenza vaccination could decrease the significant economic and humanistic burden of influenza in the United States, immunization rates are below recommended levels, and concerns remain [about] whether immunization programs can be cost-beneficial,” stated Ian Duncan, the study’s lead author. “Both universal and targeted vaccination programs can be cost-beneficial. Proper planning with cost models can help employers and policy-makers develop strategies to improve the impact of immunization programs.”
Q&A: Campaigning against the flu
Flu vaccinations have received a lot of attention lately, and that’s no surprise, considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that everyone ages 6 months and older get yearly vaccinations, not to mention the H1N1 pandemic flu scare. Now that pharmacists nationwide can administer vaccinations, pharmacy retailers across the country have mobilized to make them available to customers, making it a key part of one of the most significant shifts in health care in a long time, namely the move of many services from the doctor’s office to more accessible venues like pharmacies and retail clinics.
Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of French drug maker Sanofi, recently unveiled an effort to promote flu vaccinations that includes advertising and celebrity endorsements. DSN had the opportunity to talk to Sanofi Pasteur director of U.S. public relations and communications Michael Szumera about the campaign.
DSN: There have been numerous efforts to promote flu vaccinations lately, but yours is particularly notable, given the amount of money being spent. What explains the scale of your campaign?
Szumera: Sanofi Pasteur believes it is important to educate adult consumers about the seriousness of influenza and the availability of vaccine options. Our campaign targets adults 18 through 64 years of age because they have some of the lowest immunization rates in the United States. Each year in the United States, 1-in-5 people, or up to 20% of the population gets the flu, and on average, influenza and its related complications result in approximately 226,000 hospitalizations. Combined with pneumonia, influenza is the nation’s ninth leading cause of death. Adults need to better understand that vaccination is safe and effective and the best way to help prevent influenza and its complications.
DSN: How do you plan to influence the public?
Szumera: The goal of the Fluzone Intradermal vaccine DTC campaign is to raise awareness among adult consumers about the seriousness of influenza and the availability of vaccine options, including Fluzone Intradermal vaccine. Adults are often overlooked but at risk to contract influenza and spread the virus to others, including persons at high-risk, such as children and older adults.
Components of the program include a national advertising campaign, comprehensive national public awareness program with actor Chris O’Donnell, and local market events with retail pharmacy partners. All activities are focused on educating adults 18 through 64 years of age about the seriousness of influenza and the availability of vaccine options, including Fluzone Intradermal vaccine, to help protect adults against this potentially deadly disease.
DSN: What kinds of roles can pharmacy retailers play in your campaign?
Szumera: Obtaining an annual influenza vaccination is becoming more and more convenient for people. Influenza vaccines are now widely available at retail stores, pharmacies, workplace flu clinics and many more places. Pharmacists play a key role in educating people about the importance of vaccination and the options available.
Increasing access to influenza vaccine is an important step in improving vaccination rates, particularly among adults 18 to 64 years of age. Retail pharmacies provide another option for adults to be vaccinated. Fluzone Intradermal vaccine is available at physician practices, as well as retail pharmacies. The website Fluzone.com allows consumers to search where the vaccine is available in their area.
Low vaccination rates among adults have prompted retail pharmacies — Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS — to bring the Coop de Quill VacciNation Tour to cities across the country. The retail pharmacies are hosting flu clinic events to bring Fluzone Intradermal vaccine to local residents. At each tour stop event, attendees will have the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with a clinic pharmacist to better understand the importance of annual influenza vaccination, how to protect themselves and their loved ones, and available vaccine options. Attendees can also get immunized at the flu clinics.
DSN: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities in addressing influenza and vaccinations?
Szumera: According to the CDC, everyone 6 months of age and older should receive an annual influenza vaccination, yet on average, only a third of adults in the United States 18 through 64 years of age are immunized, leaving far too many unprotected and at risk for spreading the virus to those at high-risk like young children and older adults.
Results from a recent telephone survey commissioned by Sanofi Pasteur of 663 adults revealed these low rates highlight a disconnect between fear and action, as two out of every three (67%) of adults 18 through 64 years of age said if they had influenza, they fear spreading the virus to their loved ones, yet 3-in-5 (61%) adults said they are not vaccinated annually. In the same survey, 53% of adults 18 through 64 years of age who were vaccinated annually reported that their vaccination experience would be better if the needle was much smaller, and 65% said their experience would be better if access to the flu shot was more convenient.
The opportunity to educate adults about the flu and vaccine options is key. Adults need to understand that the single most important thing they can do to help prevent getting or spreading the flu is to get their annual flu vaccination, and they should speak to their healthcare provider about which vaccination option may be right for them.
Immunization offerings expand past flu, shingles
While much of the focus on pharmacist-administered vaccinations has been on influenza and shingles, there also have been efforts to significantly expand the number of diseases against which customers at the local pharmacy can get protection.
Last month, warehouse retailer Sam’s Club announced that it would offer 10 immunizations at its 552 pharmacies for cold and flu season. In partnership with Mollen Immunization Clinics, it’s also offering an expanded menu of immunizations by registered nurses through Nov. 15. The immunizations include flu, pneumonia, chickenpox, shingles, Tdap, human papillomavirus, MMR, meningitis and hepatitis A and B. Around the same time, Miami-based regional retail pharmacy chain Navarro Discount Pharmacy announced it would expand its selection of available vaccines to include shingles and pneumonia at all of its stores.
Another opportunity that exists for pharmacy retailers is specialization in areas like travel vaccinations, such as those for hepatitis A and B. Seattle-based regional chain Bartell Drugs has offered comprehensive travel clinics at several of its stores for a while now, and other retailers are doing the same.
In August, an education session at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Pharmacy and Technology Conference in Denver presented some of the opportunities and challenges involved in travel medicine. Travel medicine requires expertise on a number of subjects, such as patient education, immunization and pharmacology. “These are things pharmacists are already very skilled at or can easily become skilled at,” the session’s presenter, University of Southern California pharmacy professor Jeff Goad, said. Vaccines, he added, are only part of it.
Pharmacy retailers looking to get involved with travel medicine also should consider carrying products travelers would need, particularly if they’re going to developing countries. These include water purification tablets, mosquito nets and insect repellents. In addition, pharmacists consulting prospective travelers should know ways to deal with such noninfectious conditions as jet lag and altitude sickness.
Travel medicine requires some investment on the retailer’s part, such as setting aside an area to provide services, necessary education for the pharmacist and stocking up on travel-related products, Goad said, as well as collaborative practice agreements with physicians that may be needed for certain vaccinations and medications, travel medicine software, and in many states, a special stamp that certifies a pharmacy for delivering yellow fever vaccinations.