Pharmacies continue push to lower barriers to seasonal flu vaccination

Temple University's Eric Keuffel

In the years since the H1N1 pandemic, pharmacies have established themselves as major providers of vaccines, with Walgreens and CVS administering jabs to more than 10 million people last year. But while anything that makes it easier for patients to get vaccinated is welcomed by public health officials and manufacturers, physicians have reservations about pharmacies stepping onto their turf.

The Associated Press dug into the trend and its implications this week. CVS has doubled the number of flu vaccines it administers over the past few years, leading to the figure topping 5 million in 2013. The expansion of pharmacies' role in vaccine administration--which was sparked by changes to state legislation after the H1N1 outbreak--has coincided with the continued rise of flu vaccine uptake. Last flu season saw almost twice as many vaccines distributed in the U.S. as in 2000.

What role--if any--the pharmacies have played in the increase in flu vaccine use is unclear, but by making it possible for people to get a jab on the weekend while shopping for toiletries, they have lessened inconvenience as a barrier. In return, pharmacies make low-margin sales and--more importantly--another way to get people into the store. "I think (it's) … a good marketing tool to bring people in," Temple University health economist Eric Keuffel said.

A Center for Disease Control and Prevention official praised the role pharmacies played in increasing access to pandemic vaccines, but some doctors have doubts about their role in the supply of seasonal shots. For physicians, the purpose of administering an annual flu job goes beyond the vaccination itself, with many using it as an opportunity to check up on any chronic conditions that affect their patients. 

- read the AP article