Pharmacists play a key role in vaccinations crucial for public health
It has not been terribly long since pharmacists in the United States began being trained and certified to give immunizations for a host of public health diseases that in the old days killed, maimed or sent to infirmaries many American adults and children who failed to obtain the vaccinations.
Widespread use of vaccinations has effectively curbed the spread of many communicable diseases which were life-threatening.
It has been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that pharmacists in the United States in 2018 administered 42% of all flu vaccines — saving many, many lives and lessening the threat of a large flu epidemic which used to kill millions of people throughout the world each year. In recent times, we have seen outbreaks of measles in the United States and abroad due to the fact that in many countries, immunizations are not being given to newborns and — especially in the United States — many parents are opting out of inoculating their kids for religious reasons, fear of vaccinations or they conclude that the measles vaccine contains a contaminant, a mercury product, that could cause autism in the child.
The issue of mercury being in the vaccine, which is no longer done, has been proven to be fictitious and not factual. In California, even despite a state law that requires that students must get immunizations and shots, and even though we passed new legislation that prohibits opting out, we have seen an increase in measles. It was not that long ago that medical experts and public health officials had declared victory against the battle of measles.
More than 760 cases of measles were currently reported in 23 states in 2019, twice as many as last year, according to the CDC. This year is the highest level of measles cases reported since the illness was declared effectively eliminated in 2000.
It is time for more pharmacists to get involved in giving immunizations, especially in rural areas, since the United States now is suffering a loss of 16,000 family physicians, and the shortage of physicians is expected to decline further in the coming years. Pharmacists need to get more involved in county public health issues, especially to stem these types of outbreaks, and be sure that students in their community have received the number of required shots for a number of infectious diseases from measles and mumps to chicken pox and polio.
I encourage pharmacists through their public awareness, banners and information on when they need to get immunizations to get vaccination rates up, and to increase education and awareness through the patients and customers coming into the pharmacy. Parents need to be aware that by not vaccinating their kids, they are not only risking their children to contract measles and mumps, but also spreading it to others, possibly other children who would impose a risk of severe illnesses.
It is time for our pharmacy leadership in the United States to articulate that pharmacists can pick up the slack by increasing immunizations across the board, since they are the most
available, accessible and acceptable of all healthcare professionals.
Public health authorities long have restricted individual liberties for the sake of the common good. For example, smoking is prohibited in most public spaces. TB patients who refuse medication can be forcibly detained, according to a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against a parent who was fined $5 for refusing to have his son inoculated against small pox.
The health of our local kids and parents demands that any loopholes in the immunization laws be closed in an effort to prevent disease and protect our communities. It is a matter of collective responsibility.
Fred Mayer is a public health pharmacist and CEO of Pharmacists Planning Services
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