August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Education around vaccines is more important than ever this year as we head into flu season and simultaneously prepare for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“That level of rise in a single year would be quite amazing good news,” says Infectious Disease Specialist Scott Hamstra, MD. “[Adult] flu vaccination compared to childhood vaccination, sadly, has been low and fairly consistent year to year, though has been slowly but surely rising.” Higher risk groups – children, the elderly, those with chronic diseases – typically have higher coverage rates. The lowest rates come from the 18-49 age group, and this is where we hope to see a greater increase in vaccination. There are a number of new factors to consider this year as we prepare for the upcoming flu season.
As we enter a flu season coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, people are more wary of the unknown. Are my symptoms from the flu? Or could it be COVID-19? Am I putting at-risk people in even greater danger by not contributing to herd immunity? Young, healthy people typically may not prioritize getting a flu shot because it does not seem like a great threat, or simply because of a lack of motivation to get one. These people who are on the fence may be more motivated to get their flu shot this year.
The conflicting side of this, however, is that some people may hesitate to go out into public to get their flu shot and potentially be exposed to COVID-19. “I think that’s where pharmacy can really play a key role,” says Lara Popovich, Senior Director of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at STChealth. “People that would have gotten a flu shot at a provider’s office [may not] feel comfortable sitting in a waiting room with people that they perceive to be sick – but pharmacies are such a quick in and out destination.”
STChealth is a technology company that aims to eradicate vaccine-preventable disease by facilitating the exchange of public health information. In the wake of the pandemic, STC has been working to ensure state health departments are equipped to support an influx of immunization data this flu season and also working to help pharmacies increase their reporting of data to those health agency registries. Flu vaccine manufacturers have also been preparing for this projected increase in demand, with about 20 million additional doses being added to the supply this year.
Pharmacies will be essential in vaccinating the public as quickly and efficiently as possible to help minimize hospitalizations and relieve stress on the healthcare system.
Local community pharmacies are an important part of immunization awareness and administration. If you offer this valuable service at your pharmacy, be prepared to promote vaccinations at your store and follow the CDC’s guidelines for vaccinating during a pandemic. Implementing an immunization program takes some commitment to plan and establish, but the benefits to your pharmacy and your community are substantial. Many stores start out offering flu shots and then expand into other vaccines once the program starts growing.
When pharmacies are connected to the vaccination registry, they open up opportunities for closing the gap in patient care and bringing in more revenue for their store. “In a lot of the studies that we’ve done and the data that we’ve seen [at STChealth], people going into a pharmacy asking for a flu shot…are on average missing two other immunizations in their history,” stresses Popovich. “So even if you just were able to help those people get completely up to date, you’re having a huge impact on the coverage rate. And that’s not even trying to approach people that are on the fence…those are people directly asking for a vaccine from you as a pharmacist.”
When utilizing their resources properly, pharmacists have the capability to have an immense impact on vaccination rates. Especially with the anticipation of a COVID-19 vaccine, pharmacies are being pushed as a crucial part of efficiently deploying a vaccine across the United States. Pharmacies must take advantage of these opportunities and be prepared to step in with situations like these.
Data is powerful. Pharmacies have the ability to significantly impact public health by reporting and accessing patient vaccination data in registries. Learning how to use your data in this way is an extremely valuable tool to have in your own pharmacy.
“It’s more important than ever that pharmacies doing immunizations are connected to the databases, because we need to know about coverage rates and who’s protected and who’s not,” explains Popovich. “Especially when a COVID vaccine comes out, it’s [likely] going to be required for at least some period of time that the vaccine gets reported to the registry quickly – if not in real time.”
PioneerRx pharmacies can use STC Immslink for streamlined reporting and access to patient vaccination records in real-time within their pharmacy software’s workflow.
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