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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
A law in effect since July allows drugstore pharmacies to give various shots for adults.

Pharmacies offer range of vaccines

Convenience, availability key in avoiding preventable outbreaks

The Journal Gazette

The signs are already starting to appear at some pharmacies: Get your flu shot here.

The notion of going to a drugstore or even a grocery pharmacy for that annual vaccination is slowly taking hold for many people. The convenience can outweigh a time-consuming trip to the doctor's office or clinic.

But just as we are becoming comfortable with that idea, signs touting shots for other ailments, pneumonia and meningitis included, are also popping up along pharmacy entryways, raising a certain urgency about what, if any, shots we need.

Pharmacy and health officials agree that's a good thing.

A state law in effect since July 1 allows pharmacies to give a new host of shots geared toward adults. The legislative push is to make vaccinations more accessible. The initiative began a few years ago by allowing flu and then shingles shots to be given by pharmacists.

While children begin receiving immunizations in infancy, and school-required immunizations have been emphasized for years, adults might not know they need vaccinations, forget or just ignore them.

Tami Collins isn't one of them.

Visiting the Walgreens off West Jefferson Boulevard at Liberty Mills Road on a recent Friday morning, Collins said she had a flu shot there a week earlier and would consider other immunizations at the pharmacy. It's better than shelling out an insurance co-payment at the doctor's office, she said.

"It's very convenient," said Collins, who at age 50 is a few years from needing a shingles shot but is contemplating one because "It's kind of scary."

While shingles, a painful condition, is not life-threatening, other vaccine-preventable illnesses are.

Last year Allen County reported 223 people died from pneumonia, compared with 229 in 2011 according to the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department's annual report. There were three flu deaths last year and three the year before.

According to state data compiled between 2006 and 2010, 68.7 percent of people 65 and older in Allen County had a pneumonia vaccination. Only 34.8 percent of county adults 18 and older received a flu shot.

Some adult vaccines are relatively new, and the signs outside pharmacies raise awareness, said Dr. Deb McMahan, Allen County health commissioner. Nothing is more cost effective for keeping people healthy than immunizations, she added

"To me, vaccines are a no-brainer," McMahan said. "So I think the easier you can make it for people to get these the better."

The new law was pushed by the Indiana Pharmacists Alliance, an advocacy group.

With flu and shingles shots already available, people visiting pharmacies asked if other immunizations could be offered, Lawrence Sage, executive vice president of the Alliance, said.

"We just find that pharmacists are kind of uniquely positioned to do these things," Sage said. "They're very accessible health care providers in virtually every community."

The health department, as a government nonprofit agency, likely offers most shots at a lower cost, McMahan said.

But after getting a pharmacy vaccination, people with insurance can submit claims to their insurance provider, Medicare or Medicaid, so the cost difference for those choosing a pharmacy over the health department might not be large, she added.

Local Walgreens pharmacies are seeing a mix of insured and uninsured clients, "but I think the reason people choose to go to a Walgreens pharmacy is because of the accessibility," said Markeisha Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Deerfield, Ill.,-based company.

"So they can go after their kid has gotten out of practice," she added. "They can go on their lunch break. If Saturday is more convenient they can go and not have to schedule an appointment with the doctor."

Since the law took effect, more people are asking for the newer shots, said Nicholas Sloffer, Kroger pharmacy coordinator in Fort Wayne and leader of an Alliance committee representing retail and community pharmacies.

Interest in pneumonia shots for people 65 and older and the immunization for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) has grown, Sloffer said. A pertussis, or whooping cough, epidemic in Texas has raised concerns, he added.

There hasn't been much interest in HPV or meningitis vaccines, Sloffer said.

At local Walgreens pharmacies, most interest has been in the Tdap and HPV shots, Marshall said.

Last year, a Walgreens survey found that 71 percent of adults believe having up-to-date immunizations is important, but more than 40 percent don't know which immunizations they need.

"We definitely see folks asking," Sloffer said.

The pharmacy banners help, McMahan said.

"I love it that the signs are out there, and we make it very convenient for people to get these done," McMahan said. "I just want it to be a loop that the doctor's office is always included in and so everybody's on the same page."

Check with your family doctor before having any immunizations, to make sure you are not already immunized, McMahan said. And provide your doctor a copy of any outside immunizations you get, she added.

That information also is automatically sent to a computerized state database called the Children and Hoosier's Immunization Registry Program, found at myvaxindiana.in.gov. Its purpose is to "collect, forecast, manage, and share vaccine data to registered medical providers," according to the website.

Providers include private medical facilities, health departments, hospitals and schools. Individuals can also access their immunization record.

A patient fills out paperwork for the registry at a pharmacy before an immunization. That information is also faxed to the patient's doctor, Sloffer said.

"We try to treat it like a prescription, work it into the work flow," Sloffer said of the vaccinations. "We strive for a 20-minute wait time in our stores or less, and hopefully we can get folks in and out quickly depending on how busy we are."

And if someone has no documentation of their immunization history, Sloffer said not to worry.

"If we don't know then we should immunize and keep a record and go from there," he said. "A second dose isn't going to be harmful."

Shingles pain is miserable, McMahan said, and she fears an increase in whooping cough in Indiana, given the record number of Texas cases. If not for themselves, older adults should be immunized for fear of spreading something to their unvaccinated grandchildren, she said.

"People don't realize that pneumonia is always in the top causes of death," McMahan said. "Sometimes in Allen County it's the third or fourth cause. It just depends on the year.

"But, I mean, you don't want to die from something that's totally preventable."

rshawgo@jg.net

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