February 14, 2013

Let pharmacists give more vaccines

For years, many Georgians have headed to their local pharmacist — not a doctor — to get their annual flu shot. If a bill currently being considered by the General Assembly becomes law, adults could also get the full array of vaccines recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at their pharmacist’s shop.

Senate Bill 85 would allow pharmacists and nurses to give vaccinations to adults without a prescription. It is sponsored by state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton.

Bethel says the bill would improve access to vaccines, improve public health and cut health care costs by helping reduce the chances that people will get one of the diseases they can be vaccinated against.

Pharmacists and nurses would have to administer vaccines under protocols developed by a physician, just as they currently do flu vaccines, Bethel added.

The ability to vaccinate ourselves against potentially deadly and crippling diseases ranks among medical science’s greatest achievements. But vaccination rates in the United States remain far too low. For instance, the CDC would like to see 60 percent of adults under 65 vaccinated for pneumonia. Currently, only about 20 percent of adults under 65 have had that vaccination.

Anything that could increase access to vaccines has the potential to increase vaccination rates. Getting more people vaccinated against more diseases will not only protect those people. It will help protect those who don’t get vaccinated. Scientists call this herd immunity. Basically, when enough people are vaccinated it can disrupt the spread of a disease from person to person.

State Rep. Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton, himself a pharmacist, says those in the profession welcome the bill.

“We are doing these immunizations now. We are just doing them with a prescription, so it really doesn’t change our practice at all,” he said.

He notes that pharmacists who don’t want to provide vaccinations won’t be forced to. But those who do will have to undergo special training, just as they do if they provide the flu vaccine.

Public health and individual patients can only benefit from allowing pharmacists to provide adult vaccinations. The Legislature should make this bill one of its top priorities.

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