Home > Science & Research, Seasonal Flu > Friday Flu Shot: Pharmacy Role in Vaccinations

Friday Flu Shot: Pharmacy Role in Vaccinations

With flu season upon us, there is no denying that the average person is probably bombarded with suggestions to get a flu shot.  While there are the usual messages seen on posters in  hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, there is also a great deal of signage being generated by pharmacies who, in many states, are authorized to administer certain vaccines.  Big, bold banners can often be read from the highway and large sidewalk tents placed at the store entrances are hard to avoid.  And if your town is anything like mine, there’s a pharmacy (and sometimes more than one) located at most major intersections.

While it appears that pharmacies are actively advertising for people to get vaccinated, there will always be those that criticize this practice as a way for pharmacies to make more money.  Whatever their motives, this post is intended to spark a discussion about both the pros and cons of what is becoming a more common practice.

If pharmacies are providing a health service that is more convenient for people and results in more people getting vaccinated, I see that as a benefit.  Especially since I’ve heard many parents complain that one of the reasons that they delay, forget or neglect, to get themselves or their children immunized, is because they lack the time.

Let’s face it.  A trip to the doctor’s office is not just time-consuming, it may also be difficult to schedule or coordinate.

And then there are other obstacles to consider.  Like the doctor’s office not receiving their vaccines early in the season.  Or the doctor running out of vaccines before the patient was scheduled to be seen.  Or the requirement, in some practices, to make a scheduled appointment as opposed to just being able to walk in.  There are even instances where parents bring their children to get vaccinated, but who have to make a separate appointment with their own doctor, since the pediatrician won’t administer the vaccine to an adult.

Convenience is certainly a consideration in getting vaccinated at a pharmacy, as a report released yesterday from Walgreens demonstrates.  It revealed that nearly one-third of flu shots at Walgreens and Take Care Clinics were administered during evenings, weekends and holidays. 

However, the report also gave me some other thoughts to consider. Are pharmacies who offer immunizations becoming more vested in public health and consumer health attitudes?

The fact that Walgreens has been conducting their own research seems rather significant.  And the information they share in their report suggested that there is an occasional disconnect between consumer perception and consumer behavior when it comes to immunizations.

For instance, their results found that 71% of the adults surveyed feel being up-to-date on immunizations is very important to maintaining good health and that an overwhelming majority of adults surveyed (89%) believe that vaccinations help protect people from viruses and preventable diseases.

That’s good news, right?  Well, yes.  But unfortunately here’s the disconnect.  More than 40% of people surveyed don’t know which immunizations they may need or even when they last received certain routinely recommended vaccines.

While 60% of people admitted that the biggest motivator in considering vaccines (such as  Tdap to help protect against whooping cough) is the presence of an outbreak in their community, only 31% of respondents were aware of the status of reported cases or outbreaks in their area.

It is interesting to note that in response to their findings, Walgreens and their Take Care Clinics have introduced an immunizations assessment this season, which is free with every flu shot.

The idea?  To help ensure that people are getting the health care information and services they need. 

So what can be wrong with that?

I ask because while I have presented what seem to be some of the benefits of pharmacies providing immunizations, I’m interested in hearing some of the cons, if there are any.

My only thought is that if I had a child with severe allergies or a tendency to have a reaction, than I would probably prefer that the child’s regular health care provider administer their vaccine and be available to observe them afterwards.

But what other reasons may people have in avoiding the pharmacy for immunizations?

And do you believe that the convenience of getting a flu shot at the local pharmacy helps improve seasonal influenza vaccination uptake? 

  1. kathy
    October 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    I would not take my child to get vaccines at a pharmacy simply because it is covered for free if I take her to the MD to get them. Why pay? Also, if I was low income, I know I could go to the county health dept. But, some people are not aware of the choices and options and getting immunizations while doing your shopping is a good idea for adults. It is convenient and adults sometimes do not go in for yearly checkups. Having just had my flu shot at the MD’s office, I hope the pharmacists have people fill out the same questionnaire first, the one that asks about egg allergies and such.

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  2. October 5, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Luckily, our insurance covers our vaccines through Walgreens 100%. But, my son is only 3, and Walgreens (at least the one I went to) only does vaccines for 10 years and up. My son just got his flu shot at his pediatrician this week. I just got my flu shot yesterday, at Walgreens 🙂

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  3. Rich Greenaway
    October 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    To address a few items here…If your insurance is accepted at the pharmacy to fill your prescriptions then it should also be accepted to cover a flu shot. There are limitations that are dictated by state licensing regulations as to what ages a pharmacist is permitted to provide immunizations to. For example in the DC metropolitan area pharmacists can immunize children over the age of 12 in Washington, DC, over age 9 in Virginia, and in Maryland they over the age of 9 (and it can only be the flu vaccination in Maryland). There are protocols that are usually in place regarding pre-screening for conditions that would limit you from getting any offered vaccine. In the case of the flu vaccine there is new guidance regarding people who have egg allergies. In most cases it is safe for these individuals to get the flu vaccine but there is specific guidance from the CDC that came out in August 2011 on this topic. Basically it states that, based on the latest research only a severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) to egg protein is a contraindication. So that means if you get hives or mild reactions you should be safe in getting a flu shot. For a discussion on the topic go to the CDC report http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6033a3.htm.

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  4. October 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    My husband and I got our flu shots at Walgreens because it was quick and we didn’t have to take off work or make an appointment. And our insurance covered it all, we didn’t pay a penny! But for my boys I took them to their pediatrician just because I prefer that their pediatrician do it so that all their health information is kept in one spot and their doctor knows what shots they did and did not get. As a side note though our Walgreens asked who our primary physician was and they actually send her a message telling her that my husband and I did receive our flu shots. So she will be able to put it in our records at her office!

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  5. Justin Coyle
    October 5, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    kathy :I would not take my child to get vaccines at a pharmacy simply because it is covered for free if I take her to the MD to get them. Why pay? Also, if I was low income, I know I could go to the county health dept. But, some people are not aware of the choices and options and getting immunizations while doing your shopping is a good idea for adults. It is convenient and adults sometimes do not go in for yearly checkups. Having just had my flu shot at the MD’s office, I hope the pharmacists have people fill out the same questionnaire first, the one that asks about egg allergies and such.

    The good news is that Walgreens pharmacists do use a Vaccination Administration Record or VAR form to document the administration of the flu shot as well as to screen for allergies and contraindications. Pharmacists at Walgreens are now approved in Virginia to give flu shots to children 7 years and older. In DC it is 12 years and older. Immunizing pharmacists are also trained CPR and always carry epipens in the event of an emergency. As a pharmacist, it is very rewarding to know we are protecting our patients and their families from diseases that have serious complications. Thanks for getting your flu shot!

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  6. lilady
    October 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    When I worked as a public health nurse, I would administer the seasonal flu vaccine to my colleagues at the health department where I worked. (Of course, another nurse immunized me.)

    Since I retired seven years ago, I have gotten the flu vaccine from my doctor, but about 3 years ago his first shipment of the vaccine was depleted. Before I got the call from the doctor’s office to come in for the vaccine, my husband and I were in Walgreen and decided to get our flu shots…big mistake.

    In spite of being at Walgreen in the middle of a workday, the two or three pharmacists were quite busy filling prescriptions. We approached the pharmacy counter to request the vaccine, then waited about 10 minutes for a pharmacist to speak with us. He was really ill-prepared to administer the vaccine…taking time to find alcohol swabs and bandaids, locating the screening forms and the insurance forms. He also had to search for a chair for the “patient” to sit on. Once we provide our Medicare cards, he then had to get to a Xerox machine to copy them.

    A while back, my State legislature approved pharmacists giving seasonal flu vaccine. Prior to that, Walgreen and other drug store chains did run “flu vaccine clinics” on certain days with nurses administering the shots, in a separate area cordoned off away from the pharmacy counter. Our local and State health departments had schedules of these pharmacy chain store “flu vaccine clinics”.

    The pharmacist does not have your medical records on hand and sometimes older people forget if they have had the pneumonia vaccine…which is recommended to be given one time only, past the age of 65:

    http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-ppv.pdf

    I’d like to hear from other people if their experiences for getting the seasonal flu vaccine at a chain store pharmacy were as complicated as my experience.

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  7. Anonymous
    October 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    It seems even after the free vaccination preventive coverage has been in place for over two years now, most insurance companies aren’t set up to process free vaccinations from most retail pharmacies. Even though they’re ‘in-network’, the pharmacies only have access to submit claims to the prescription portion of people’s insurance, not the ‘medical’ portion. A few insurance plans (not even companies as a whole, just select plans within them, generally for big corporate accounts) have taken the obvious step of allowing free vaccinations to be routed through the prescription portion, but for most people the only way to avoid paying out of pocket for vaccinations would be to get them at your doctor’s office, which can submit them to the medical portion.

    If you get vaccinations at a retail pharmacy instead (for about 1/3 of the cost, with no appointment needed, and much more convenient locations and hours), you’ll have to pay up-front out of pocket, ask the pharmacist for an extra copy of the pharmacy receipt (the one with the medical details on it, not the regular cash register receipt), and then mail it in to your insurance company with a Medical Claim Form (find yours buried somewhere in your insurance company’s website; some companies also have a special form just for flu shots, e.g. ‘Influenza Vaccine Reimbursement Form’).

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