Expanding Vaccination In Pharmacies Could Help Ease Economic Disparities

There are significant geographic discrepancies among the drug stores that offer vaccines. In some parts of the country, you can get vaccinated for shingles or whooping cough in a local pharmacy like Walgreens, CVS, or Rite Aid — but that’s not true everywhere, even though those drug stores typically offer vaccines for influenza. And Slate points out that the inconsistencies are doing a disservice to Americans’ public health.

Some doctors worry that if Americans aren’t required to visit a physician’s office to receive their shots, they may neglect to visit the doctor for a regular check-up, or their medical records may be too difficult to effectively track. But as Slate notes, while tying vaccinations to doctor’s visits may help get some Americans get in the door, it can also dissuade many more from getting vaccinated at all:

In a perfect world, everyone would have a primary care doctor who offered long-term, holistic care. Yet some people don’t have health insurance (in case you hadn’t heard). And some just don’t go to the doctor unless they’re in dire need. “Ask any internist or family medicine doctor how many healthy men between the ages of 21 and 50 they generally see,” said Elizabeth Rosenblum, a family medicine doctor at UCSD. “There is theory and there is practice.” Not all doctors are keen on providing vaccines either, which require providers to make an upfront investment and then deal with storage, handling, and other logistical issues. Unlike pediatricians, who handle high vaccine volume, some adult doctors may decide that it just isn’t worth it. […]

Pharmacists are already crucial to the annual flu shot push. During the swine flu surge in 2009, the CDC recommended the pandemic vaccine for everyone 6 months of age or older. The following year, for the first time, they also recommended the seasonal flu shot to the same broad range of people. This vastly boosted demand, and pharmacists were increasingly allowed to step in. In 2006–07 they administered roughly 7 percent of adult flu shots. By last year that number was over 18 percent. Carolyn Bridges, associate director for Adult Immunizations at the CDC, says she’s not sure the country could have kept up without the help of the pharmacists.

Although some proposed legislation has attempted to expand the scope of drug stores’ vaccination efforts, doctors’ groups have pushed back on them and ultimately killed the bills.


But since pharmacists are already so effective at ensuring that additional Americans get vaccinated for influenza, expanding access to vaccination in drug stores for other infectious diseases could help address other public health issues, such as the record-breaking whooping cough outbreak on the West Coast. Tighter vaccination requirements in Washington state may help suppress the outbreak from spreading even further, but expanding resources in drug stores could particularly impact low-income and uninsured Americans.