Immunization champions offer advice to pharmacists

Immunization Update

Nonpharmacist health care providers are your partners, not your rivals. Vaccines are a public health issue, not a scope of practice issue. Find your allies and make your voice heard. This is the wisdom three Immunization Excellence Award winners shared with Pharmacy Today.

At this year’s National Adult & Influenza Immunization Summit in Atlanta, pharmacies and pharmacists were among the winners of awards for their contributions to improve access to adult vaccinations and influenza vaccinations in their communities. Today asked three winners to offer advice to other pharmacists who want to improve vaccination rates in their communities. 

Laura Schwartzwald, BSPharm, an independent pharmacy owner in Brainerd, MN, was named an adult immunization champion. James McCabe, BSPharm, Director of Patient Care, accepted the Immunization Neighborhood Award for Safeway Pharmacy. Jason Rubin, BSPharm, Senior Manager of Immunizations, accepted the Corporate Campaign Award for Walgreens.

Each of you has partnered with some great organizations for your immunization initiatives. Your partners include state and local public health, professional organizations, CDC, and United Nations. How can pharmacists form partnerships to expand their immunization efforts?

Reach out to other providers in the area as partners, not rivals. If we approach this from a public health perspective, I believe that we can be more effective at immunizing the population as a whole. 

When you approach immunization from a public health perspective, it resonates with pharmacists and other providers. Be actively involved, attend meetings, make your voice heard.

Rubin: Get out there, reach out, and don’t wait for people to come to you. As pharmacists, our goal is to protect patients. What better way to do that than by partnering with other groups focused on vaccines in our area? 

What are the challenges that pharmacists and pharmacies face in their efforts to improve immunization rates? What lessons have you learned that you can pass on to other pharmacists or pharmacies?

McCabe: The biggest challenge is pharmacist provider status recognition and reimbursement by state Medicaid and third-party plans. This stands between the most accessible health care providers—pharmacists—and the most underserved members of our immunization neighborhoods. 

Rubin: Immunizing privileges are still a barrier for pharmacists, though more states are allowing pharmacists to provide all CDC-recommended vaccinations. It’s critical to work with local and state health departments and find advocates in immunization coalitions. A unified voice is critical to drive awareness and reduce barriers. 

Schwartzwald: Pharmacies are not allowed to participate in manufacturer-based patient assistance programs designed to help patients who cannot afford vaccines. Yet pharmacies provide a significant percentage of immunizations. If our goal is to increase the adult immunization rates throughout the entire country, then somehow, we should voice our concerns about the exclusion of pharmacies from patient assistance programs.

Today: Laura, you advocated to change Minnesota law to allow nonphysician prescribers, such as advanced practice nurses and physician assistants, to sign vaccine protocols for pharmacies to expand access to adult immunizations. Tell us about that.

Schwartzwald: Because of the challenges that I faced as a rural pharmacy owner, I was able to advocate for some of the legislative changes that were to follow. Many independent and small chain pharmacies had a difficult time finding a physician willing to sign a collaborative practice agreement due to their affiliation with larger health care systems. As an active member of the immunization advisory committees and in my role as a pharmacist member on the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, I was able to voice those challenges on behalf of all pharmacists to an audience that could recommend changes for the benefit of everyone who lives in Minnesota.

Today: Do you have any practical tips for immunizing pharmacists who want to help plan community outreach efforts to underserved populations?

McCabe: Identify and embrace the vulnerable in your community in a nonjudgmental way by reaching out to organizations that support social services. This builds credibility among public health providers.