Bringing Immunization Services to the Community

Pharmacy Times, February 2010 Infectious Disease, Volume 76, Issue 2

This past year saw a phenomenon relating to H1N1, with a rise in spending on prescription drugs by 5.2% to $246 billion, as patients sought antiviral drugs to combat the influenza scare. The retail chain drugstores stepped up and distributed massive amounts of seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines as pharmacists worked to supply the public with flu shots. For H1N1 alone, 61 million people were vaccinated through January 2010.

It’s a great example of how an industry responds to a need on the local and community level. In New York State, for example, pharmacists were given the authority to administer flu shots for the first time and responded by giving out 700,000 seasonal flu shots and 325,000 H1N1 vaccinations. There is no question that pharmacies worked tirelessly to deliver their patient-centric services.

In that same spirit, pharmacies are now able to vaccinate for herpes zoster or shingles, the painful disease that results from the chickenpox virus, usually in older people who no longer have immunity from the infection. For the first time, Rite Aid pharmacies in the Albany area are currently immunizing for shingles through scheduled clinic visits with nurse practitioners, another step in the direction of bringing important health services to the local pharmacy level.

In fact, the Pharmacists Society of New York is advocating that these new services take it up a step and offer more convenient, drop-in vaccine clinics. There is also a push that these vaccine immunization services should be expanded to supermarket pharmacies as well. The society is also submitting legislation to expand the number of vaccines pharmacists can already give to include the shingles vaccine. It constitutes a new source of income for pharmacies, the society maintains, and it brings a welcome service directly to where it is most needed. Sounds like a win-win, and entrepreneurship at its best.

The expansion of the services provided by pharmacists is the good news. The bad news is that the country is spending more on health care than ever before, according to a recent report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In fact, for every dollar spent in the United States in 2009, 17 cents was spent on health care, an increase that represents the largest growth in 1 year since the federal government started keeping track of these statistics in 1960.

Health care spending grew from an estimated $2.5 trillion—that’s $8047 per person—and it is projected to reach $4.5 trillion, or 19.3% of gross domestic product, by 2019. Analysts view the spike as a result of the recession and the increase in retiring baby boomers. The latter problem is ongoing, and my concern is that the former is a longer-term situation than many believe. Business is good for enterprising pharmacies that saw an opportunity to provide vaccinations and expand other patient care avenues. But the overall direction of health care spending is sobering, to say the least.

Thank you for reading!

Mike Hennessy