Pharmacies, Vaccinations and Health Benchmarking

The state legislature in Florida decided it is legal and appropriate for pharmacists and pharmacies to begin administering vaccines against multiple diseases.  Their list of adult vaccines includes seasonal flu shots, pneumovax (pneumonia vaccine) and zostavax (vaccine to prevent shingles).  The rationale of the legislature is that access to doctors to receive these preventive vaccines is limited and difficult.

By refusing to administer vaccines in their office because it is time consuming and not profitable enough, my colleagues in primary care have not made my argument against permitting this any stronger. I thought prevention and administering vaccines was part of the job description in primary care.  I am not asking my colleagues to lose money, but I do believe there is a distinct difference between not making a large profit and losing money.  Isn’t it our professional and ethical responsibility to provide preventive services?

Over the years, the fall season and start of the school year have always provided an opportunity to remind patients that they were due for an annual checkup and to make positive suggestions on what other opportunities were available for them to try and prevent infectious or chronic disease. School-age children have been required to receive immunizations before entering school for obvious public health reasons.  This provides an opportunity to benchmark their growth and age goals and discuss healthy living as well. The visits came towards the end of the calendar year when most individuals had met their annual medical deductible so the out of pocket costs were not great.

As I walk into my local CVS I am confronted by ads for vaccines and same-day clinics. They remind me that physicians have lost this encounter to enhance the doctor/patient relationship and provide sound health advice for the future because administering vaccines isn’t very profitable.  Pharmacies often use vaccinations as a loss-leader to draw you in and get you to purchase other, more profitable, items.

I will continue to provide vaccines in my internal medicine office as I believe it is the professional and responsible thing to do.

Flu Shot Campaign Begins

As school bells ring out announcing a new school year and pigskins fly through the air announcing the arrival of a new football season, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) begins its annual influenza vaccine campaign.  “Flu” or influenza is a viral illness associated with fever, severe muscle aches, general malaise and respiratory symptoms.  Most healthy children and adults can run a fever for 5 – 7 days and fight off the infection over a 10 day to three week period.  There is clearly a long period of malaise and debilitation in many that lasts for weeks after the acute febrile illness resolves.

The illness is especially severe and often lethal in the elderly, in infants, in patients with asthma and chronic lung disease and in those patients who have a weakened immune system due to disease or cancer treatments. Diabetics and heart patients are particularly vulnerable to the lethal effects of unchecked influenza.

The CDC recommends vaccinating all Americans over six years old against influenza.  Adults can receive an injection, or a nasal application.  The 2012 – 2013 vaccine has been updated from the 2011 – 2012 version based on samplings of current influenza viruses spreading around the world.   It takes about two weeks to develop antibodies and immunity to influenza after you receive the vaccination.  If you received the vaccine last season or had the flu last season you are still advised to receive the 2012 – 2013 vaccine this year because immunity fades with time.  Flu vaccine should have arrived in most physician offices and community health centers and pharmacies by mid- August.  The CDC advises taking the shot as soon as it is available.

The vaccines used are not live viruses so one cannot catch the flu from the vaccine. Side effects usually include warmth and tenderness at the injection site and rarely general malaise and low grade fever a day or so later.  The benefits of receiving the vaccine far outweigh these minor and rare ill effects which can be treated with an ice pack to the injection site and some acetaminophen.  Please call your doctor to set up an appointment for a flu vaccine.

For those individuals who catch the flu we still have several antiviral agents available to treat the illness. These agents should decrease the intensity or severity and duration of the flu. We try to use these medicines as infrequently as possible because the flu can develop resistance to them over time.

Prevention of disease is an ever increasing component of our everyday language. Vaccination against an infectious disease such as flu or influenza is clearly one of the more effective preventive strategies physicians have available to offer patients.  While you are making arrangements to receive your flu shot inquire about several other effective adult vaccines including Pneumovax to prevent bacterial pneumonia, Zostavax to prevent shingles and post herpetic neuralgia and Tdap to prevent whooping cough or pertussis and tetanus.