Vaccines to prevent viral and bacterial infections have saved more lives than any other medicine or medical intervention. As currently formulated, immunization doses are among the safest, best tolerated, and most effective biological medications available. They are also relatively affordable and simple to administer.
Despite controversies regarding the repeatedly disproved claim that mercury in vaccines causes autism and concerns that immunizing tweens and teens against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus encourages promiscuity, the benefits of vaccinations—disease eradication, decreases in child mortality, and more—are widely recognized. Individuals’ lives and public health can only be improved by ensuring everyone is able to get their shots.
Why You Should Be a Pharmacist Immunizer
All medical doctors and nurses licensed to practice in the United States receive training on how to administer vaccines. Many medical technicians and aides also have the authority to immunize patients. Yet, as large as that health care workforce is, many American children and adults remain unvaccinated against everything from measles and mumps to chickenpox and influenza.
No age, sex, race, or ethnic group has 100% vaccine coverage for any disease, and some immunization rates are in the single digits. These realities compel pharmacists to do their part to address immunization access and education issues.
On June 26, 2012, Rear Admiral Anne Schuchat, M.D., sent a letter requesting “pharmacists and community vaccinators” to take five steps to meet vaccine needs. Schuchat serves as an assistant attorney general for the U.S. Public Health Service and as Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. She sent her letter on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Schuchat called on pharmacists and other immunizers to
- Increase awareness among their patients about recommended vaccines.
- Assess which vaccines patients lack and offer high-need vaccines such as tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) boosters and annual flu shots.
- Recommend certain vaccines for patients with chronic diseases, such as hepatitis B immunization for patients with diabetes.
- Sign up for vaccine registries (i.e., immunization information systems) and provide consent forms and immunization record cards to patients or their primary physician.
- Partner and collaborate with a local health department, immunization coalition, or health provider association to reach patients who need vaccines.
How to Become a Pharmacist Immunizer
Every state, along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories, allows a pharmacist to become a licensed and certified immunizer. Requirements for doing so vary in each place, however. Any pharmacists interested in administering vaccinations should check with their state pharmacy association and medical board to get the qualification criteria.
Most states accept successful completion of the Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery certification course developed by the American Pharmacist Association as a baseline qualification. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists also offers web-based continuing education focused on immunizing hospital patients and long-term care facility residents.
Which Vaccinations Are Needed?
The federal government only makes recommendations regarding who should receive which vaccinations at what age. Those guidelines are fully updated at least once each year by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
State laws vary according to which vaccinations pharmacists can administer and what immunizations children must receive as infants and before attending school. If adults are not attending college, serving in the military, or involved in teaching, child care or health care, they have more leeway in whether to receive a particular vaccine or immunity booster.
The best way to get a handle on the myriad rules and recommendations is by regularly checking these searchable state databases maintained by the CDC. The “School Vaccination Requirements and Exemptions” database is a must-search.
The work of eradicating disease and improving public health is a worthy cause to which pharmacists have already devoted themselves. By getting certified to administer vaccinations, they contribute that much more to the cause.