Nearly 1 in 3 individuals do not receive vaccinations against influenza, nor do almost 30% of patients with insurance and access to regular medical care, according to findings presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions held in November 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Uninsured patients with low incomes had the highest rates of nonvaccination: 65%, investigators said.

“Our study sheds light on key inequalities related to disparities in flu vaccination rates,” senior author Khurram Nasir, MD, MPH, MSc, chief of cardiovascular prevention and director of outcome research at Houston Methodist in Texas, said in a statement. “We hope that flu vaccinations among heart disease patients [become] an integral part of quality-of-care measures and will facilitate processes to limit these unintended care gaps among the most vulnerable in our society.”1

As CDC officials note on the agency’s website, health care providers, including pharmacists, are in a great position to counsel patients about the importance of influenza vaccination and should continue to do so, even if their patients say they feel it is “too late in the season to get vaccinated.” It is not. As of the end of December, during the 2019-2020 influenza season, the CDC estimated that there had been at least 6.4 million flu illnesses, resulting in 55,000 hospitalizations and 2900 deaths. Of those, 27 pediatric deaths had been reported to the CDC, with 18 associated with influenza B viruses and 9 caused by influenza A viruses.2

Preventing needless mortality and morbidity as it relates to influenza is key, and pharmacists can do even more than counsel patients. Despite no objections from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the states of Connecticut, Florida, and Vermont bar children from being vaccinated against influenza in pharmacies.3 An additional 30 states restrict the practice based on the child’s age.3

“I just want to see more children get vaccinated. I don’t really care how you do it,” said Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, according to the Cable News Network.3

NBC Connecticut reported that the Connecticut Pharmacists Association’s chief executive officer does not plan to push for a bill in the next legislative session that would allow young people to get a flu vaccine from a pharmacist.4

Pharmacists can get more involved in these areas of the immunization policy discussion. Doing so can protect lives.


REFERENCES
  1. Flu shots help prevent illness, death in heart disease patients [news release]. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association; November 11, 2019. newsroom.heart.org/news/flu-shots-help-prevent-illness-death-in-heart-disease-patients. Accessed January 7, 2019.
  2. Weekly U.S. influenza surveillance report. CDC website. cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm#ILIActivityMap. Updated January 3, 2020. Accessed January 6, 2020.
  3. Most states make it difficult for children to get a flu shot. Cable News Network website. m.cnn.com/en/article/h_1666b5ba7d02836a88074e990c3d2356. Updated November 26, 2019. Accessed January 7, 2020.
  4. Bill allowing pharmacists to give kids the flu shot at risk. NBC Connecticut website. nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/bill-allowing-pharmacists-to-give-kids-the-flu-shot-at-risk/2187814/. Published December 1, 2019. Accessed January 7, 2020.