Looking beyond influenza immunizations

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Looking beyond influenza immunizations

By David Salazar - 06/12/2017

In the roughly 20 years since pharmacists began providing vaccinations in some states, pharmacy is growing as a preferred site for patients to receive their immunizations. In PrescribeWellness’ 2017 Vaccination and Preventive Care Study, 55% of survey respondents said they prefer their pharmacy to their physician’s office as the place to get vaccinated.

Pharmacy is responding. Roughly 68% of community pharmacies offer immunization services, according to the 2016 National Community Pharmacy Association Digest. And approximately 300,000 pharmacists nationwide currently are trained to give immunizations, according to the American Pharmacists Association.

Pharmacy immunizations have played a large role in patients getting immunized against the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers from November 2016 show that 24.3% of all flu vaccines were given in a retail pharmacy setting. Pharmacists can administer the flu vaccine to patients in all states, though some states require patients to have a prescription, typically depending on age.

But vaccinations in the pharmacy are more than just the flu vaccine. For example, pharmacy can provide an important place for patients to be vaccinated against shingles — something that the PrescribeWellness survey found is on the top of patients’ minds. The CDC noted that 1-in-3 people are expected to develop shingles. As a result, 89% of those surveyed thought that it was important to take shingles immunization seriously, with 40% saying they had been directly affected by shingles in some way.

In every state, pharmacists are authorized to administer the herpes zoster vaccine, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine for patients ages 50 years and older, and CDC guidelines recommend the vaccine for patients ages 60 years and older. While in 39 states patients of the appropriate age don’t require a prescription, seven states always require a prescription. In addition in North Carolina, pharmacists must consult with a patient’s primary care physician first; in Wyoming, only high-risk patients’ physicians have to be consulted; and in Maine, patients without an established primary care physician can be vaccinated without a prescription. Missouri requires prescriptions for patients ages 50 years to 59 years old, with no prescription required for patients older than 60 years of age.

While many Americans are concerned about shingles, another vaccine commonly administered by pharmacists — the pneumococcal vaccine — is open to more patients beyond seniors, presenting another large opportunity for pharmacies. “It’s wonderful that Americans are taking the shingles immunization seriously, as the vaccine significantly reduces a person’s risk of developing herpes zoster,” said Farah Madhat, a licensed pharmacist and director of clinical services at PrescribeWellness.

“But there are other vaccines they should also make a priority. The pneumococcal and flu vaccines are also effective, inexpensive and readily available at local pharmacies, without a prescription in most states. Pneumococcal disease can cause severe infections of the lungs (pneumonia), bloodstream and lining of the brain and spinal cord, more commonly known as meningitis. Each year in the United States, pneumococcal disease kills thousands of adults and hospitalizes thousands more,” Madhat added.