The number of people getting a flu shot at a pharmacy skyrocketed from 3.2 million to 20.9 million between 2007 and 2013, but that doesn’t mean more people are getting vaccinated.

The study, published in the journal Vaccine, shows that pharmacists at locations including chain stores like CVS and locally owned outlets are providing millions of vaccines as a consequence of a change in state laws. Beginning in the 1990s, states began permitting pharmacists to administer flu vaccines, which previously had been solely the responsibility of physicians and nurses.

Flu Shot
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Flu Shot
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But while the number of pharmacy vaccinations has increased dramatically, there has been minimal impact on the overall adult vaccination rate.

“Possibly what is happening is people who were already planning to be vaccinated are shifting their business from a doctor’s office or medical clinic to a pharmacy at Target or Walgreens,” says Coady Wing, assistant professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University.

“One possible explanation is that pharmacies are a more convenient place for people to get what they want, which is to be vaccinated. In that sense, people who want to be vaccinated benefit from allowing pharmacy-based vaccinations.”

Even though the adult vaccination rate has remained essentially unchanged, allowing pharmacists to give flu shots should be considered a success, says Kevin McConeghy of the Providence, Rhode Island, Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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“Pharmacies are located in rural and urban areas. You don’t need an appointment, they accept insurance plans or cash, and they operate on expanded hours relative to primary-care clinics or other vaccinators. In the end, patients are the winners, and that isn’t always the case in health care.”

Further, the rise in pharmacy-based vaccinations doesn’t appear to significantly decrease the use of other preventive health services. In theory, that could have been a problem since doctors might bundle a flu shot with other preventive services such as blood tests and breast exams. But the data show virtually no change in routine physician office visits, Wing says.

Whether the changes in pharmacy regulations led to a decrease in medical clinic flu vaccinations is a question not answered in the data analyzed in the study. Researchers believe this is the first nationwide study to evaluate the effect of pharmacy-based immunization regulations.

Source: Indiana University

Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.04.076

Article by Jim Hanchett-Indiana