Pharmacies Play Key Role as Center of Immunization Services

Pharmacy Times, October 2021, Volume 87, Issue 10

Public recognition of their role has increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the essential role pharmacists play in immunizations, and as booster shots and the flu season approach, patients will continue to turn to pharmacists for necessary vaccines, according to a panel of experts in a recent Pharmacy Times® webcast.

The webcast participants discussed the opportunities that pharmacists have to expand their services through immunizations.

Pharmacies have been providing immunizations for more than 20 years, though the public recognition of this role has increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to webcast moderator Ed Cohen, PharmD, FAPhA, executive vice president of pharmacy advocacy at MJH LifeSciences™, the parent company of Pharmacy Times®.

Panelist Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS, founder of the Pharmacist Moms Group, said she agrees that gaining recognition for these services has been a major change over the past year, adding that some surveys have found that many patients prefer to get COVID-19 vaccines at local pharmacies instead of large, mass vaccination sites.

“It’s very clear that pharmacy is on the trajectory to become the center of this place, and I think pharmacists have been embracing this new role,” Soliman said.

The trust that patients place in pharmacists goes beyond the retail environment. Panelist Liz Oler, PharmD, patient care services coordinator of immunizations and advanced clinical services at Albertsons Companies, said that pharmacists are also trusted to provide immunizations in community centers, schools, and workplaces.

Contracting with employer groups or schools is a great way to bring awareness about pharmacy services to the public, she said.

In addition to creating more widespread awareness about the role of pharmacies in immunizations, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in new opportunities and privileges from boards of pharmacy and waivers. Although some of these privileges could last beyond the pandemic, Cohen said some could be revoked.

Many states passed rules allowing pharmacy technicians to administer vaccinations, and the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act greatly expanded those opportunities, Oler said These privileges vary by state, with some requiring collaborative practice agreements and limiting which vaccines can be administered or which age groups can receive them at pharmacies.

In states that might be considering reinstating limitations or revoking these privileges, panelist Jennifer Adams, PharmD, EdD, associate dean for academic affairs at Idaho State University College of Pharmacy, said now is the time to advocate.

“We’ve demonstrated over the course of the past year what we’re capable of as a profession across the United States,” she said. “It’s time we begin to advocate across all the states to get the point of being progressive, like we are here in Idaho.”

The pandemic also resulted in many delayed routine medical visits, including delays in immunizations for children. When speaking with parents, pharmacists have a big role to play in ensuring that children catch up on their immunizations.

Soliman said she is seeing nearly 15% catch-up rates in pediatric immunizations, and she recommended some ways in which pharmacists can get involved in this effort in their communities.

“Serving on some of the public health boards for our own towns can help make a difference in some of the schools and with some of the children,” Soliman said, noting that the closure of preschools has meant fewer reminders for parents to get their children’s routine immunizations. “Pharmacists can get a lot more involved in that.”

With all these simultaneous issues, and as pharmacies prepare for COVID-19 booster shots and flu vaccinations, the panelists all agreed that they are incredibly proud of the profession. Collaborating with other health care professionals will be essential to managing the workload and ensuring holistic patient care.

“Pharmacy has a big role to play in public health, whether it’s a pandemic or a natural disaster,” said panelist John Beckner, BS Pharm, senior director of strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association. “And we need to continue to work with our colleagues in the public health sector to collaborate.”

REFERENCE

Community pharmacy: center of immunization services. Pharmacy Times®. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://www. pharmacytimes.com/webinars-webcasts/community-pharmacy-center-of-immunization-services