Pharmacists ready to take their shot at immunizations

Rite Aid earlier this year announced an initiative to increase the number of qualified immunizing pharmacists on the chain’s roster before the start of the 2010-2011 cough-cold-flu season. As of last month, more than 7,000 Rite Aid pharmacists have been certified to administer immunizations across more than 3,000 Rite Aid locations.

It’s a trend that’s sweeping across retail pharmacy, especially as pharmacists are increasingly allowed to administer immunizations in some capacity. “For several years now, pharmacists and organizations like the American Pharmacists Association have been promoting pharmacist-level immunization,” said Robert Thompson, EVP pharmacy at Rite Aid. “Last year was the first year that, in all of the 31 states and the District of Columbia where [Rite Aid] operates, we were able to have pharmacist immunization,” he said.

The H1N1 pandemic that defined last year’s cough-cold-flu season helped boost awareness not only around the need for vaccines, but also where those vaccines could be administered. And that flu shot awareness was heightened with the help of public service announcements out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to a CDC report issued in April, more Americans were vaccinated against seasonal flu during the 2009-2010 season (40% of the eligible population) than during the previous flu season (33% of the eligible population).

But administering flu shots in the convenience of a retail pharmacy setting isn’t the only way vaccines are being made available. Rite Aid plans to host flu clinics at more than 800 Rite Aid stores in October and November. But in addition to regular seasonal flu shots, pneumococcal shots for pneumonia also are being offered by Rite Aid pharmacists and at Rite Aid flu clinics, and can be administered at the same time as the seasonal flu shot.

There also are a number of vaccines available year-round at Rite Aid and other pharmacy operators, which suggests vaccine delivery in a convenient pharmacy setting may continue to gain traction among patients. “Our philosophy from the very beginning is that we are training our pharmacists to do immunizations to the extent that [each] state regulation will allow,” Thompson said. “So we train [across] the whole broad range of immunizations. We intend to provide our patients with the opportunity to receive any type of vaccination that the state regulation will allow. Flu, pneumococcal, tetanus, hepatitis, zoster, meningococcal—whatever it is, we want to be able to provide that because immunization is the best form of prevention for many serious diseases,” he said. “We also see and support the changing role of pharmacy to provide more services at the community level.”