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The Key to Community Preparedness: Pharmacists

Categories: General

 Picture of a pharmacy counter taken from one of the aislesBy Katherine Seib, MSPH

The last time you were in a pharmacy did you notice advertisements for the flu vaccine? Signs like these will become more common as pharmacists take on an important role in administering vaccines to the general public. Have you also noticed how pharmacies seem to be everywhere? The ubiquity of pharmacies plus their extended hours of operation and streamlined access to preventative treatments makes them perfect for helping respond to emergencies, by distributing vaccines, medications, or protective masks. It’s encouraging to know that pharmacists in all 50 states can now administer vaccines and many are involved in emergency response training.

Research Supports the Role of Pharmacists

The Immunization Systems Project of the Emory Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center (PERCC) conducts research to determine how immunization systems could combat public health emergencies such as vaccine shortages or pandemic flu. Some of our recent findings highlight the importance of incorporating pharmacies into emergency planning as a valuable resource for reaching the public with important health measures.

During our research we explored differences in providers’ experiences administering vaccines during the H1N1 pandemic. We surveyed vaccine providers (e.g., pediatricians, obstetricians, hospital providers, pharmacists) in Washington State to examine topics such as vaccine administration, participation in preparedness activities and communication with public health agencies.

Based on our results, pharmacists:

  • Saw more patients on a daily basis than any other vaccine provider group
  • Reported lower coverage rates of their staff receiving seasonal and H1N1 influenza vaccines

Compared with other providers, pharmacists were:

  • Less likely to rely on local health departments for information about emergencies
  • Less likely to have participated in emergency training or response activities in the past
  • More inclined to rely on federal sources, corporate headquarters and professional organizations for information about public health emergencies
  • Willing to work with health departments in future vaccine-related public health emergencies

Our research suggests that, given the broad reach of pharmacists and their high patient volume, pharmacists could become key first responders to improve the capability and reach of emergency response in the future. Encouraging pharmacists’ participation in emergency preparedness training as well as building connections between health departments and public health agencies are ways that can strengthen emergency response.  Public health entities are actively taking steps to add pharmacies into the pool of emergency responders. Doing so leverages the extensive community reach of pharmacists and the high level of trust people feel towards them.

Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Centers are funded by CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response. To find more information about PERRC programs across the U.S. visit http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/science/erp_PERRCs.htm.

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