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Pharmacists on Front Lines of Flu Vaccine Efforts

November 2, 2020

This fall, efforts to avoid a “twindemic” spike in cases of both influenza and COVID-19 have health officials urging individuals to get a flu vaccine. Dr. Beth Sutton Burke, assistant professor in the Wegmans School of Pharmacy and community pharmacist with Wegmans, said the risk of disease transmission and stresses on the health care system are the main considerations for this increased push.

A community pharmacist administers a flu shot to a patient.

Sutton Burke said community pharmacies are helping to address this need by offering convenient, easy ways for individuals to obtain vaccinations.

“Community pharmacies offer extended hours and often can administer vaccines without an appointment,” she said. “Community members are often already making a trip to the pharmacy so they can reduce contact points by decreasing the number of errands or stops they have to make in the community. Patients also may already have a relationship with their community pharmacist and feel comfortable interacting with the pharmacy team for their health maintenance.”

She also mentioned that community pharmacies can provide vaccinations for the whole family, including for children two years and older.

Sutton Burke’s team, which provides vaccinations at clinics for employer groups and at community events, will administer between 1,000 to 1,200 flu shots a day. In previous years, she has staffed clinics at local YMCAs and Project Homeless Connect’s Day of Services. This year, Wegmans partnered with Common Ground Health, Monroe County Department of Public Health, and other local agencies to provide flu vaccines and COVID tests to the greater Rochester community through mobile clinics over the course of 12 days.

These efforts are often aided by the presence of pharmacy school interns and students engaged in clinical rotations; in 2018, New York State expanded their privileges, allowing them to administer vaccines under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist.

“Having interns immunize increases the staff available to provide patient services,” said Sutton Burke. “At clinics, we can open additional vaccination stations and get larger volumes of people through more efficiently, and at the stores this allows more personnel to be available to counsel patients on their medications, communicate with providers, and verify prescriptions. This expansion of qualified providers allows patients to be cared for at the highest level with fewer distractions for the pharmacist and a shorter wait for the patient.”