Ronald Richmond, R.Ph., MPH, Senior Vice President of Provider Relations, Paramount Rx
Why is getting a flu vaccine more important than ever this year?
Getting a flu shot this year is very important as we struggle through the current COVID-19 pandemic. Both Flu and COVID-19 are viruses that attack the respiratory tract. While we don’t currently have a lot of experience with co-infections of these viruses, we do know it is possible to contract both at the same time. Having Flu and COVID-19 simultaneously could result in much more severe illness, especially for those with underlying diseases or vulnerable populations, like the elderly.
Is the pharmacy industry preparing for flu season differently this year? If so, how?
Pharmacies in general have anticipated an increased demand for flu shots this year. The benefits of immunizations have been highlighted much more this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with the potential for Flu co-infection with COVID-19 and more severe illness, it is thought that many people may seek out a flu shot this year, even if they haven’t routinely done so in the past. Pharmacies have been preparing for this increased demand by ensuring they have adequate supplies of flu vaccine on hand.
Are there special precautions pharmacists are taking this flu season to safely administer vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Pharmacists are keenly aware of the importance of social distancing. However, the administration of the vaccines does require close contact between the patient and the pharmacist. To minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread during immunizations, the pharmacist wears a mask and gloves, and the patient is required to wear a mask. Social distancing is maintained while the pharmacist is not administering the vaccine.
What would you tell an at-risk person about getting a flu vaccine this season?
While everyone should get a flu shot this year to lower their risk of co-infection with COVID-19, getting a flu shot is even more critical for those with underlying disease states and the elderly. These individuals are already at greater risk for more severe illness with a flu infection. Flu vaccines for the current year usually become available well in advance of flu season, and flu shots are readily available at most retail pharmacies and doctor’s offices. In short, lack of access is really not an excuse for not getting your flu shot. For those aged 65 and above, who have poorer immune responses to flu vaccines than younger people, a “high dose” or “adjuvanted” version of the flu shot may be used to achieve a better immune response, and better protection against flu.
What about children? Can they get a flu shot at the Pharmacy? How about a COVID-19 shot when the vaccine becomes available?
Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) issued an amendment under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) that allows licensed pharmacists meeting specific requirements to order and administer approved or licensed vaccines to children ages three and above. Further guidance under the amendment expands the authorization to administer these vaccines to qualified pharmacy technicians and interns working under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. The amendment was considered an important step in ensuring adequate access to immunizations for children during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many pharmacies have moved ahead with the training programs required for their staff to administer flu and other approved vaccines to children ages three and above. Check with your local pharmacy to verify they can provide flu immunizations to your children.
When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, your local pharmacy may provide the most convenient access to receive this immunization. However, current vaccine trials in the United States do not include children under the age of 12. Therefore, additional information is needed before we can further discuss COVID-19 immunizations in children. Nonetheless, once an approved COVID-19 vaccine is determined to be safe in children, it will likely become available for the immunization of children at pharmacies whose qualified staff meet the requirements established by the amendment to the PREP Act.
For more details on Community Cares Rx and other programs that provide cost savings on prescription medications, please visit www.paramountrx.com.