Immunization Rates Improving as Pharmacists Take on a Larger Role

Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Thursday, September 29, 2011
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When it comes to influenza vaccination, CDC data show that rates are steadily improving. However, there is still room for improvement, and pharmacists are poised to take on a greater role in protecting against the spread of communicable disease such as influenza.

“A pharmacist goes through 6 years or more of school, depending on his or her area of specialization,” said Thomas Menighan, CEO and executive vice president of the American Pharmacists Association. “In addition to their specialized training as medication experts, pharmacists can go through a formal training program to gain the skill set and knowledge to administer immunizations. This formal training helps ensure reliable and consistent immunization care for patients.”

According to the CDC, 5% to 20% of the US population is infected with influenza every year. Influenza’s seasonal toll is unpredictable, causing more than 200,000 hospitalizations and between 3000 and 49,000 deaths in a typical year.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that all patients aged 6 months and older get vaccinated each year. Last year, an estimated 130.9 million individuals in the United States received the influenza vaccine, representing a steady increase over the last several years. Two states experienced significant improvements: Maryland, with a 6% increase in vaccination rates, and North Carolina, with a 7% jump.

And with more choices and more convenience offered to patients, the numbers could continue to climb. According to the CDC, 63% of adults say that they plan to be vaccinated during the 2011-2012 season.

In addition to the fact that the overall supply has increased—with more than 85 million doses of influenza vaccine are available in physician offices, public health clinics, pharmacies, and retail stores, this year, 4 different types of influenza vaccines are available to meet the needs of different patient populations: a nasal spray; the traditional intramuscular injected vaccine; a high-dose injection for people age 65 and older; and a new intradermal vaccine that features a smaller needle.

“It is encouraging to see that we are making progress and each year increasing the supply to accommodate expanding acceptance,” said William Schaffner, MD, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and chairman of the department of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Another key factor in increasing vaccination rates is the fact that more health care professionals are broaching the topic with patients. An NFID survey found that 68% of adults were advised to get a vaccine this year—marking a 10% increase from the previous flu season.

However, although physician recommendations are a critical component, a coordinated approach across care settings is needed to ensure that vaccination rates to continue to climb. Pharmacists, who are authorized to give flu vaccinations in all 50 states, play an integral role in immunization administration. The CDC estimates that approximately 20% of the seasonal flu vaccinations given to adults during the 2010-2011 season were administered by pharmacists.

Pharmacists are “readily available to discuss vaccines and how they can help keep your family healthy. Many pharmacies have year-round walk-in hours and immunization clinics during the peak season,” said Vincent Hartzell, owner and director of Patient Care Services, Hartzells Pharmacy. “In most cases, a patient can get vaccinated in the time it takes to wait for their prescriptions.”

For more information on vaccinations, click on the links below:

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