Potential for Flu Pandemic Puts Pharmacists on Alert

When an influenza pandemic breaks out, public health officials scurry to vaccinate as many individuals as they can.

When an influenza pandemic breaks out, public health officials scurry to vaccinate as many individuals as they can.

Involving many health care professionals in diverse locations is the cornerstone of any successful immunization campaign. This means that public health agencies, which are often minimally staffed and stretched to their limits during outbreaks, must collaborate with vaccine providers and immunizers. Immunizing pharmacists represent an important group for expanding access to pandemic vaccination.

Recently, monitors have tracked highly pathogenic strains of influenza A in humans and birds, raising concern about a potential pandemic. Public health officials attempt to stay in a constant state of readiness, and they assess their immunization campaigns constantly. With immunizing pharmacists dotting the US landscape in easily assessable locations, it would be foolhardy not to include this valuable resource in plans.

One in 4 Americans is vaccinated in a pharmacy, and the CDC is strongly supportive of greater pharmacy involvement in vaccination programs. Are public health agencies ready for pharmacists to do more if a pandemic breaks out? That’s the question researchers answer in a study published ahead-of-print in the journal Vaccine.

The research team analyzed data from CDC assessments of jurisdictions that received immunization and emergency preparedness funding from 2012 to 2015. This database includes 53 jurisdictions, and the vast majority (47, or 88.7%) report that they will include pharmacies in pandemic vaccine distribution plans.

Roughly half already have plans in place to recruit pharmacists to vaccinate, and approximately one-third have executed formal relationships with pharmacies. However, most jurisdictions plan to allocate less than 10% of pandemic vaccine supply to pharmacies.

The researchers note that despite good intentions, most plans have significant gaps. Agencies need to update and maintain their points of contact, refine their recruiting processes for pharmacists, and clarify pharmacists’ specific roles during pandemics. They also need to re-examine their pandemic vaccine allocation and distribution plans with regard to pharmacies, and identify patient populations better.

An area that needs considerable attention in most jurisdictions is storage and handling capacity needed to make rapid vaccine allocation decisions.

Pharmacists can work with public health departments and pharmacies to improve pandemic preparedness coordination. During a pandemic, pharmacists have the ability to immunize patients efficiently, allowing other health care providers to treat patients who are ill with the flu.