Universal Flu Shot a Boost for Pharmacies

In the wake of H1N1’s reluctant retreat, the CDC’s new recommendations for who should get vaccinated could prompt a surge in immunizations administered by pharmacists.

Pharmacies offering immunization services can expect to see continued demand for flu vaccines in the coming months, according to a recent statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Based on insights gained from the still-ongoing pandemic, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is advocating universal inoculation against the seasonal flu virus beginning with the 2010-2011 season.

The previous guidelines, which targeted high-risk individuals such as children and caregivers, covered approximately 85% of the population. In an effort to deliver a single, unified message, the CDC has expanded its recommendation to include all US citizens aged 6 months and older as prime candidates for the annual vaccine.

The news was welcomed by drug manufacturers, who anticipate a decline in vaccine sales resulting from the FDA’s decision to include the 2009 H1N1 virus in the next cycle of seasonal vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline reported a 30% increase in overall vaccine sales last year, attributed exclusively to the sale of H1N1 pandemic vaccines. Novartis reported selling 100 million pandemic vaccine doses, compared with only 27.1 million doses of seasonal vaccine in 2009.

In addition to bolstering vaccine sales, universal inoculation will place a greater demand on health care providers to offer routine immunization services to growing numbers of patients. As illustrated by their performance in the 2009-2010 flu season, pharmacies are equipped to meet this demand.

A study conducted by the CDC found that 12% of patients received seasonal flu vaccines from a drugstore or pharmacy in 2009. Similar numbers were reported by retail clinics, which experienced record volume this flu season. At its Take Care Clinics, Walgreens administered 4 times the number of seasonal flu shots compared with last season, reporting a total of more than 5.4 million shots given in a 2-month period.

With an estimated 100,000 US pharmacists certified to administer immunizations and a number of program options available to pharmacists seeking certification, the infrastructure needed to offer these vital services is already in place, according to the American Pharmacists Association.