With the recent HHS ruling allowing state-licensed pharmacists to administer a COVID-19 vaccine (when available), the federal government set expectations: pharmacies will be part of the pandemic’s immunization solution. Add a rapidly approaching flu season and it’s clear that now is the time for pharmacists to evaluate their status as immunization providers.
Chain pharmacy certainly recognizes the value, with executives describing their stores as “well positioned” to capitalize on anticipated growth in vaccinations quite apart from COVID:
- 10-20% expected increase in influenza vaccine rates
- Overall increase in all immunizations by pharmacists
- Growing awareness of pharmacy’s positive impact on societal healthcare
And how about research from the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference? At least one flu vaccination was associated with a 17% reduction in Alzheimer’s incidence, while more frequent flu vaccination was associated with an additional 13% reduction. Vaccination against pneumonia was even more effective when provided to patients age 65-75, reducing Alzheimer’s risk by up to 40% depending on individual genes.
A benefit like that is a powerful draw for patients, and it’s just one of several when community pharmacy offers the immunizations – particularly where COVID vaccination is concerned. The extremely rapid development efforts toward a COVID vaccine (literally named Operation Warp Speed) may cause people to experience more hesitancy than usual over receiving the vaccine. Industry groups like the NCPA® are emphasizing the importance of community pharmacists’ existing, trusted relationships with patients to overcome vaccination hesitancy, particularly in long-term care settings where the vaccine is anticipated to be distributed first.
Patient benefits of pharmacy vaccination:
- Vaccine administered in the pharmacy they trust
- More accessible hours of administration
- Convenient geographical access to pharmacy location
- Ability to combine prescription pickup with vaccine administration
- Confidence in having their pharmacist manage and monitor their vaccination needs
Pharmacy benefits of vaccination:
- Keep your patients at your pharmacy rather than sending them to a chain for vaccinations
- Improved relationships with prescribers
- Additional revenue stream
- Expansion, or initiation, of clinical services
- Improved community presence (for example, by offering vaccine days at local businesses, churches, and civic organizations)
Becoming an immunizing pharmacist
If benefits like these are convincing you to explore further, the American Pharmacists Association offers a go-to overview resource, along with the CDC – for example, each summer the CDC publishes official recommendations for the upcoming influenza season. It’s also important to remember the role state regulations play. Most states have an immunization information system or registry where pharmacists are required to record administered vaccines, and their onboarding processes differ. Ensuring your pharmacy management software can report to the state registry is key to being a COVID immunizer.
Other key steps to be ready to administer a COVID vaccine:
- Make sure you’re on VaccineFinder – Register and update your account to accurately reflect the vaccines you offer in your pharmacy.
- Have the ability to schedule appointments – A COVID vaccine could come in quantities or with a shelf life that make it important to have appointments scheduled, so there’s as little waste as possible.
- Work with your PSAO – There will likely be a provider agreement for pharmacists to sign, so stay engaged. Also, stay in touch with your state pharmacy association because it will be coordinating with the state health department regarding COVID vaccinations.
- If you’re in an area with a local health department, talk to them, too. Make sure they know you’re there and ready to help and the kind of patients you have – especially healthcare workers and older populations.
Admittedly, there are a lot of nuts and bolts to being an immunizer – particularly when it comes to reimbursements. Recognizing that it takes time to start and administer an immunization program, and that time is one resource community pharmacists are short on, certain companies have stepped into the role of providing significant help with the legwork. QS/1 customers have new access to immunization support like this, with partners like RedSail Medical Billing (by TransactRx).
QS/1 software tip
While you’re investigating options to become an immunizer, be sure to examine the tools already available in the NRx® Pharmacy Management System. The Patient Chart, accessed from the Patient Record by clicking View > Chart, can be used for medication therapy management (MTM) purposes (additional medications, progress notes, lab values), as well as tracking immunizations. Tracking immunizations on the Immunization Record allows you to better advise patients on what immunizations they need and printing an Immunization History report allows patients to see exactly what immunizations they have already been given.
Why starting now is a good idea
To circle back to where we began, regardless of the timing of a COVID vaccine, flu season is upon us. Remember these points when considering immunization support programs:
- 8- to 12-week lead times for obtaining PTAN numbers
- Anticipated influx of demand for pharmacy immunizations, particularly in light of COVID-19
- Achieving a more efficient workflow by consolidating related services into a single platform (registry reporting for vaccines, alerts for companion vaccines, etc.)
As you’re ramping up, remember that communicating with local physicians and their extenders is mutually beneficial, and that local media are often interested in a story on immunization as a public service which can, in turn, drive business. Because after all, who wants patients asking, “Do I need to go to the chain store for my shot?”
CDC Vaccine & Immunization site
Pharmacist-Based Immunization Delivery certificate program
How to register for HealthMap VaccineFinder (a site where users can search for locations that offer immunizations)
For the value perspective from an immunizing pharmacist