In addition to licensed pharmacists, student pharmacists can play an important role in helping more Americans get vaccinated by participating in immunization campaigns throughout their communities.
Flu vaccine season is underway, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is once again urging all Americans 6 months and older to get their flu shot this year.1 On September 29, CDC Director of National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Nancy Messonnier, MD, issued a Dear Pharmacist Letter, which recognized the importance of pharmacists in vaccinating the population.2 In addition to licensed pharmacists, student pharmacists can play an important role in helping more Americans get the vaccine by participating in immunization campaigns throughout their communities.
The American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) launched Operation Immunization in 1997. Through this program, student pharmacists provide immunization education and vaccination to their communities. As of the 2014-2015 campaign, 86 APhA-ASP chapters across the country were participating in Operation Immunization.3
One such chapter is that of the University of Mississippi. There, pharmacy students are trained to give immunizations the first year of school, so that they are able to provide vaccinations each year to fellow students, faculty, and community residents. The Ole Miss APhA-ASP chapter was recently featured in the school’s newspaper, The DM Online, where the immunization campaign was explained.4 By participating in the campaign, student pharmacists are able to practice a skill that they will then be able to use for years to come as a practicing pharmacist. Pharmacy student Jennifer Miller explains, “A lot of us work in community settings as well as where people come to get flu shots and other vaccines. It just makes it known to the community that pharmacists can also be that resource and that they do not have to go to the doctor to get their shots.”
The American Pharmacists Association offers an immunization training program called Pharmacist-Based Immunization Delivery.5 This interactive program teaches the necessary skills required to be a source of vaccine information and administration to the community. Pharmacists learn immunology, practice implementation, and regulatory issues. This program, accredited for pharmacy continuing education (CE), provides five modules:
1. Pharmacists, Vaccines, and Public Health
2. Overview of Immunology and Vaccine Development
3. Vaccine-Preventable Diseases
4. Patient Care Considerations for Immunizing Pharmacists
5. Operating a Pharmacist-Based Immunization Program
Participants also complete a live, active training session, in which injection-technique is practiced. A total of 20 CE hours are earned after completion of the program and the pharmacist can then deliver any vaccines approved for pharmacist administration.
Pharmacists as Immunizers
This year marks the 20th anniversary of APhA’s Pharmacy-Based Immunization Certificate Training Program. Over the course of these 20 years, over 280,000 pharmacists have been trained to administer vaccines and pharmacists are now recognized as valued members of the immunization team through expanded regulations.6 Despite these advances, a study published online last month in the journal Vaccine reports that pharmacists are often underestimated as immunizers in pandemic planning by public health programs.7 The authors report that while 88.7% of public health jurisdictions examined include pharmacies in pandemic vaccine distribution plans, only 45.3% have pharmacist recruitment processes in place, and only 30.8% have established formal relationships with pharmacies. Additionally, most jurisdictions plan to allocate less than 10% of pandemic vaccine supplies to pharmacies. These results stand in stark contrast to the reality that 1 in 4 adults who receive the seasonal influenza vaccine do so in a pharmacy or retail setting, and that 86% of the US population lives within 5 miles of a pharmacy.6 Pharmacists have an obligation to continue to engage the public health sector in order to increase the pharmacists’ role in providing immunizations on both a scheduled and emergency basis.
Pharmacists continue to provide important immunization services to their communities. Through programs like Operation Immunization, student pharmacists can begin to learn and practice this vital skill, while providing a valuable service to their campuses and communities. Pharmacy programs should continue to train future pharmacists on immunization techniques, while advocating for further engagement in the public health planning of vaccine delivery.
David Martin, PharmD, BCPS, is an infectious diseases clinical pharmacist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, IL. After graduating from Butler University in 2013, he completed residency programs at John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County and the University of Chicago Medicine. Dr. Martin regularly teaches pharmacotherapeutics courses in the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine physician assistant program, and is an active member of ICHP, ASHP, and SIDP.