Chrystine Zacherau is director for APCO Insight in New York and Washington, D.C., and provides opinion research and analysis in the health care sector.
While we have gotten better at inoculating our kids from vaccine-preventable disease (rates for most of the long-standing recommended vaccines have increased to 90 percent or higher), we still have a ways to go when it comes to adult immunizations. Pneumococcal vaccination coverage, for example, among high-risk adults is just 18.5 percent overall, according to the CDC.
One viable strategy on the table for increasing adult vaccination rates is offering immunizations at neighborhood pharmacies.
According to a recent survey conducted by APCO Insight in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (where a recently enacted policy allows pharmacists to administer 10 adult vaccines in addition to the annual flu shot), adult patients and primary care providers (PCPs) overwhelmingly agree pharmacies can help increase adult vaccine coverage. The vast majority of PCPs believe that vaccines administered at pharmacies will not only improve access, but improve overall public health, too. PCPs say pharmacies are an “appropriate location” to receive a vaccination, and half of patients say they are “likely to visit a pharmacy for a vaccine.”
Why, then, are so many adult patients falling behind the recommended vaccine schedule? And why are so few pharmacies being visited to receive these immunizations?
Indeed, the survey found that only one in five patients had actually received vaccines at pharmacies in the past five years. So, even those people who think pharmacy-administered vaccines are a good idea are the very same ones who are choosing not to receive vaccinations at the pharmacy – if at all.
A variety of health care stakeholders and “influencers” must work together to:
- Reinforce the public health benefits of adult vaccination
- Affirm the benefits, including, but not limited to convenience, of pharmacist-administered vaccines
- Clarify pharmacists’ role as qualified health care providers with expertise in immunizations – and medicines, broadly
Vaccine manufacturers and pharmacies can provide easily accessible information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines; PCPs can reinforce their collaborative relationship with pharmacists when it comes to medication management, including immunizations; employers can communicate the benefits to employees – again, directing adults to nearby pharmacies to receive life-saving vaccines; and policy-makers and patient advocates can make the case in public statements, op-eds and to state and federal legislators.
Absent an integrated, streamlined and reinforcing public education effort of this kind – one in which PCP endorsement of immunizations in the pharmacy setting is front and center – we will continue to miss a critical public health opportunity that pharmacist-administered vaccines presents.
Patients and PCPs are already inclined to use and recommend pharmacist-administered vaccines; it is time for all of the stakeholders in health care – patients included – to follow through. After all, we’d do it for our kids. Why not for ourselves?