Adult immunization rates remain low, but community pharmacists are in a unique position to improve those rates, according to an article in the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC).
The article, which was developed internally by the journal, contends that community pharmacists are currently significantly underutilized, but are ideal partners in increasing immunization rates due to their accessibility to the public and to the potential cost savings from providing the vaccines in a pharmacy setting.
"Most importantly, pharmacists can readily connect the dots for patients, from offering education, advice, and guidance to providing the venue for and the administration of important adult vaccinations," the authors wrote.
While pharmacists have the potential to help improve the adult vaccination rates, they aren't being used to their full potential in today's market. To demonstrate this, the authors of the AMJC piece point to an earlier study published in 2016 by Burson and colleagues that found that political and organizational barriers have limited the feasibility and effectiveness of vaccine delivery within pharmacies.
Vaccination services are already being provided in about 86% of community pharmacies, according to a 2013 report from the HHS National Vaccine Program Office. However, one of the largest barriers to using pharmacy-based vaccine services remains reimbursement.
"Currently, a limited number of commercial health plans offer a pharmacy-based immunization benefit, which are known for having a higher conversion rate," the authors of the AJMC analysis wrote. "Thus, an expansion of pharmacy benefits may represent another path to improved adult vaccination."
Benefit mangers could be valuable allies in encouraging more plans to include pharmacy-based immunization services in the health plans selected by employers, the authors say, but add that significant education is still needed to highlight the benefits that pharmacists can bring in terms of accessibility and cost.
For example, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Managed Care and Specialty Pharmacy found that average adult vaccination direct costs were lower by 16% to 26% for shingles, pneumococcal, and influenza vaccines when they were provided in a pharmacy setting rather than in physician offices.
But while there are advantages to receiving vaccinations in a pharmacy setting, many patients still don't understand their benefits or know that a pharmacy can be a covered vaccination site.
"With improved awareness, vaccination benefits for patients, and easier billing and payment processes for immunizers, significant improvements could be made in current adult vaccination rates," the authors of the AJMC piece wrote.
They also believe that more education is needed about the value of adult immunizations.
By focusing on these existing obstacles and finding solutions, they said the healthcare industry would be better positioned to take advantage of the unique role pharmacists can play in increasing immunization rates for adults.