Bridging the Healthcare Gap: Independent Pharmacies and Low-Cost Access to Flu Vaccinations
Preparing customers for flu season has always been a priority for pharmacies – both big and small. Now, with 2018’s flu season proving to be exceptionally aggressive, and this year’s H3N2 strain evolving into one of the nastiest and most pervasive strains to date, a sense of urgency has permeated the industry (1).
Finding excuses not to get vaccinated has become a national sport of sorts. However, two more reasons have started to become increasingly common: convenience and cost (2). With the healthcare gap in the United States, there is a very definite reduction in the number of flu vaccinations given in this country to those who are under-or uninsured.
And, this is where independent pharmacies can shine as healthcare destinations within their communities.
Identifying Who is at Risk
The flu strikes indiscriminately. However, there are factors that weigh in an increase someone’s chances of falling ill with the flu:
- People in poor health
- People with disabilities
- Young children in daycare settings
- Older individuals
Each of these increased factors share a commonality: They are segments of the population who are most likely to have health issues to begin with, and those with health issues are most likely to be under or uninsured (3). These customers are most likely to skip necessary (or preventative) treatments due to financial constraints and/or time constraints.
Deterrents to Vaccination
Aside from both financial or perceived excuses to skip flu vaccinations, there is one reason that — on the surface — can appear to be valid: The somewhat ineffectual success of flu vaccinations.
For example, this year’s flu vaccine was engineered to be most protective against the H1NI strain — which is a lineage of the H3N2 strain that’s making the news. Scientists and doctors were well inside the boundaries of the flu neighborhood this year — just not on the same street. That said, it’s important to remember the language used when speaking about flu vaccinations. Flu strains mutate quickly over a season making vaccination a “best shot” scenario and not a fail-safe. Vaccination can also reduce the severity and length of illness.
How Does This Information Help Independent Pharmacies?
Quite simply, through positioning. If your pharmacy can provide low-cost or free flu vaccinations, along with a respectable amount of education regarding how flu vaccines work, what their main functions are, and why it’s important to get vaccinated, your pharmacy increases its image in the community as a go-to destination for care, as well as prevention, of seasonal illness.
Providing these services and education can also translate into a healthier population, which increases the pharmacy’s ability to provide better outcomes for their patients, as well as increasing the likelihood of medication adherence through their education efforts.
Immunization rates in the U.S. remain well under the Healthy People 2020 target. This translates to about 56,000 deaths in the U.S. each year that could have been prevented through vaccinations.
Many customers may be wondering if it’s too late to get a flu shot this year. The answer is NO! The flu season begins in October and typically peaks December through February, but can last until May. It usually takes about two weeks for the shot’s immunity benefits to kick in. With the volatility of this year’s strain, it is better to go into the office (or school, grocery store, library, mall) armed against the full force of a mid-swing flu season, than not.
Since no vaccine is 100 percent effective in any year, it’s important to promote good hygiene practices, including regular hand washing, and limited contact with others who are sick. But to truly decrease the chance of contracting the flu this season, customers should still get the flu shot.
And, if it’s not too late for customers, it’s not too late for pharmacies to implement low-cost or free flu vaccination clinics in their communities.
The National Center for Microbiology Information (NCBI) says that independent and community pharmacies are in a strong position to increase immunization rates due to their access to community members.
Does your pharmacy currently implement a low-cost or free flu clinic? How have these clinics impacted – positively or negatively – your community relationships or standing? We’d love to know and may even share those experiences in future blog posts, white papers, and e-books. If you’d like to add your experience, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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