Vaccinations: The Pharmacist's Expanded Role Opens Debate

Pharmacy TimesJuly 2011 Digestive Health
Volume 77
Issue 7

The expanded role of the pharmacist in today's health care system is a given fact, but it is one that has opened up debate.

Mike Hennessy, Pharmacy Times

The expanded role of the pharmacist in today’s health care system is a given fact, but it is one that has opened up debate. In particular, the growing amount of vaccinations provided today by community pharmacists has raised some red flags. In his editorial, “Let’s Not Treat Immunizations as a Commodity,” Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief Fred Eckel is certainly in favor of the pharmacist giving immunizations, but with some caveats. He notes, “Administering immunizations in the community pharmacy, I believe, has helped position the pharmacy as a community health center, rather than just a place to get your prescription filled. This new role should also make it easier for us as we try to position the pharmacist as a primary care provider.”

In transitioning to the role of primary care provider, pharmacists have voiced concerns that their new workloads might not allow enough time to work with patients. As more pharmacists add vaccination to the services they provide, this concern will only become more apparent. The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) reports that more pharmacists than ever before have completed training as immunization providers— numbering well over 60,000 in 2009 alone. They predict that these numbers will only continue to grow. “Pharmacists are having a positive impact on increasing immunization rates,” the APhA states. Local nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and in-store clinics are all popular sites as pharmacists expand their reach and their businesses—and further enhance their unique relationships with their patients. This means the extra workload is worth it, because in the end patients will benefit, right?

Yes, but there is some unease out there, and it is not just coming from the pharmacist community. A June 2011 report by Health Affairs revealed that not all parents are truly comfortable with getting their infant children vaccinated. While pharmacists don’t vaccinate children at these young ages, the report reveals an insecurity about vaccination that is important to be aware of in your everyday practice. The report’s researchers revealed that critical to the success of any national vaccination program is the confidence that must be attained and retained. Here’s where the immunizing pharmacist comes in—he or she is uniquely positioned to answer questions and impact immunizations rates.

There has been tremendous progress in using vaccines to prevent serious, often deadly infectious diseases, but concerns about vaccines’ safety and the increasing complexity of immunization schedules have fostered doubts about the necessity of vaccinations. The Health Affairs report found that “most parents—even those whose children receive all of the recommended vaccines—have questions, concerns, or misperceptions about them.” Who best to speak to about any and all of this than the local pharmacist, who has been trained and is well-equipped to answer questions, educate, facilitate, immunize—and advocate—for the best possible health care for their community?

Thank you for reading!

Mike Hennessy, Pharmacy Times Publisher

Mike Hennessy

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