Pharmacies offering pneumonia, shingles vaccines

BOCA RATON, Fla. - Recognizing the health threat that pneumonia and shingles pose, the state Legislature has added a new soldier in the fight to prevent them: your local pharmacy.

The Vaccine Access Act, which went into effect statewide on July 1, allows pharmacies to offer shingles and pneumonia vaccines, a convenience previously available only for flu shots.

"It's more convenient than waiting in the doctor's office," Fort Lauderdale resident Ray Sternberger, 59, said outside a Fort Lauderdale CVS store. "It makes a lot of sense."

Though all 50 states allow qualified, trained and certified pharmacists to provide flu vaccines, Florida is now one of 46 states where pharmacists can administer immunizations against pneumonia and one of 41 states where pharmacists can give the Zostavax vaccine for shingles.

"I think it's great, especially with shingles, which is one of the most prevalent diseases that patients get once they hit middle age," said Anne Chung, a pharmacist at Tropic Pharmacy in Boca Raton . Once the store begins administering the shots in a few weeks, Chung predicted the demand will be strong: "We're definitely going to be huge in that."

In 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.1 million people in the United States were hospitalized with pneumonia, and more than 50,000 people died from the lung -infecting disease. Many of them were older adults or people with other long-term illnesses. As for shingles, a skin disease caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus , the National Institutes of Health estimates that half of all Americans will have come down with the painful skin condition by the time they turn 80.

"Any time you have an opportunity to help someone from being sick or help someone stay healthy, and to prevent the increased costs of health care in this state, it's gotta be a win for everybody," said Michael Jackson , vice president of the Florida Pharmacy Association.

The law is recognition of the important role retail pharmacies are increasingly playing in patient health care, pharmacy leaders say.

"Pharmacists are among the most accessible health care professionals in the community today," said Valerie Wickboldt of the Pharmacy Choice and Access Now Coalition, a national pharmacy advocacy group. "People use their pharmacy an average of once a month, so pharmacies can advertise the importance of these immunizations more readily to a broader population."

With greater access often comes higher immunization rates. Since 2007, when pharmacists were allowed to offer flu shots, immunization rates against the seasonal flu have increased while the number of flu-related hospitalizations has fallen, national figures show. Last year, according to the CDC, 18.4 percent of adults vaccinated against the flu got their shots from their pharmacists, compared to 7 percent who did so in 2006-07.

"The flu season has demonstrated the important role community pharmacies can play in providing greater access to these immunizations," said Jim Cohn, spokesman for Walgreens, which has 851 pharmacies in Florida, all of which are ready to hand out shingles and pneumonia vaccines upon request. "Getting vaccines — that's an appointment someone has to make. Now you can walk into any pharmacy seven days a week, without an appointment."

The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine for adults 60 and older. The pneumonia vaccine is recommended for adults 65 and older; for those 18 and older with certain underlying medical conditions like heart failure and certain cancers , and for those 19 and older who smoke or have asthma .

While Zostavax for shingles requires a doctor's prescription, the pneumonia vaccine does not.

Zostavax also has to be held in frozen storage — a difficult requirement that many doctor's offices cannot accommodate.

"It's another reason why the community pharmacy is uniquely positioned to provide the shingles vaccine," Cohn of Walgreens said.

CVS late August or early September and will administer the shingles vaccine later this fall. All Publix pharmacies, meanwhile, are already offering the pneumonia vaccine, and select stores are offering Zostavax for shingles.


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