This year, August’s National Immunization Awareness Month comes at a critical time for our nation. Health care professionals are working around the clock to meet patients’ needs, including those related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, its collision with flu season and the eventual deployment of COVID-19 vaccines.
Increasing community access to – and awareness of – recommended vaccines is more important than ever before. It will require the help of community pharmacies nationwide.
Empowering a Critical Flu Vaccination Season
As we enter the fall, the country is simultaneously threatened by COVID-19 and flu. All Americans six months and older should receive a flu shot as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In order to reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalizations, to help prevent getting the flu and to protect the vulnerable, it is critical for every American who fits the CDC guidelines to take this important action. Many patients and policymakers will recognize it is essential to leverage the role of neighborhood pharmacies – which serve within five miles of 90 percent of all Americans.
It was only in 2009 that all 50 states allowed pharmacists to give flu shots. Today, according to the CDC, about 1 in 3 adults receive their flu shots at a pharmacy. Other surveys suggest that about 1 in 3 of those who receive their flu shots at a pharmacy do so during nights, weekends and holidays – when many other health care access points are closed.
This surely signals not only the convenience and accessibility of pharmacies and pharmacists nationwide, but also the tremendous trust Americans place in them when it comes to pharmacist-provided services such as immunizations. This year, pharmacies plan to help patients – particularly seniors and other vulnerable people – feel confident and comfortable about getting their vaccinations. Actions include offsite clinics, drive-up services, physical distancing in stores, helping patients prepare ahead of time to minimize their time at the location, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policies and maximizing overall patient wellbeing by conducting temperature screening and asking screening questions before the vaccination.
Federal and state governments can do their part by removing needless barriers to flu vaccines by allowing all patients ages five and up to receive their shots from pharmacists. Also, it is important that state governments sustain policy flexibilities that were put into place for the pandemic and that are important for helping pharmacies meet the demands of flu vaccination season.
Returning to Regular Vaccination Schedules
Pharmacies’ reliability and accessibility have powerful implications for educating individuals and communities nationwide – and, importantly, for reaching rural populations and those suffering from disparities in healthcare. Pharmacies play an important role in educating all Americans about recommended vaccines and the importance of resuming the regular vaccination schedule – a practice temporarily paused by the CDC at the height of the pandemic.
To magnify the importance of these actions, pharmacies are collaborating with the American Disease Prevention Coalition, the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and others. This collaboration will help to ensure that priority populations and communities nationwide know to catch up on and receive all recommended immunizations, the annual flu vaccine and forthcoming COVID-19 vaccines.
Neighborhood pharmacies continue to play a key role in boosting vaccination rates and in reaching every corner of America.
Pandemic Models Call for Pharmacists as Vaccinators
During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, pharmacies proved their value, accounting for 23 percent of vaccines distributed during an important phase of the vaccination effort. Now it is time again to fully empower pharmacy’s 2020 pandemic response.
As the nation gets ready to deploy COVID-19 vaccines, government leaders at the state and federal levels must do the right things now to ensure an efficient rollout of COVID-19 vaccines when they are proven and ready for distribution. It is crucial to ensure these plans address the needs to reach those who have suffered from disparities in healthcare. By including pharmacies and pharmacists intentionally in the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine administration strategy, and by implementing for COVID-19 vaccines many of the same recommendations that the National Association of Chain Drug Stores is urging relative to pharmacist-provided flu vaccines, federal and state governments can ensure that pharmacies will be in a “ready, set, go” mode to provide vaccine access to every American.
After all, CDC researchers found that 80 percent of the nation can be vaccinated seven weeks sooner when neighborhood pharmacies are included in the vaccination deployment model. It only makes sense that pharmacy remains an integral part of the nation’s planning and preparations for administering eventual COVID-19 vaccines.
This National Immunization Awareness Month, NACDS and member companies will continue to rise to the challenges of COVID-19, and to address the health and wellness needs of every American.
If we are going to meet the immense need for the deployment of all crucial vaccines throughout this public health crisis, the nation is going to have to prioritize the value of pharmacies and pharmacists in every aspect of pandemic response.
Steven C. Anderson is the president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
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