A report from Shoppers Drug Mart points out that many more Canadians could be vaccinated for flu if pharmacists in all provinces were permitted to immunize.

Shoppers Drug Mart, flu vaccinations, pharmacists, flu shots, immunizations, The Sustainable Solutions Report: A Focus on Immunizations, vaccines, Dominic Pilla, Canadian Pharmacists Association, CPhA, Perry Eisenschmid, 9,000 Points of Care

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SDM report calls for equal immunization access

December 12th, 2013

TORONTO – A report from Shoppers Drug Mart points out that many more Canadians could be vaccinated for flu if pharmacists in all provinces were permitted to immunize.

Canada's largest drug chain said Thursday that the study, "The Sustainable Solutions Report: A Focus on Immunizations," indicates that enabling pharmacists to administer flu vaccines would raise immunization rates nationwide by an estimated 1% to 3%.

Such a move, the report noted, also would yield the benefit of not having to provide and pay for acute care to as many ill people, with the estimated savings in Newfoundland and Labrador alone potentially reaching $1.1 million.

Currently, only pharmacists in five provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — can administer flu vaccinations, meaning that more than half of the provinces and territories still cannot provide convenient access to flu shots through local pharmacies.

The report also recommends that pharmacists across Canada be granted the authority to administer other common vaccines. Today, only pharmacists in British Columbia, Alberta, and New Brunswick are permitted to administer a broad range of injections, such as seasonal flu, hepatitis A or B, varicella, herpes zoster, human papillomavirus (HPV), tetanus, pneumococcal and diphtheria. Pharmacists in Ontario and Nova Scotia can vaccinate for flu only.

"Pharmacists are trusted health care professionals that are easy to access, making them a much more convenient choice for many Canadians," according to Domenic Pilla, president and chief executive officer of Shoppers Drug Mart. "Canadians in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories deserve access to this same type of preventative care as those in the rest of the country."

In addition, the report calls for deeper involvement by Canada's broader pharmacy community in the current development of an electronic communications infrastructure that would allow doctors, pharmacists and public health professionals to keep each other updated on patients' immunization status.

Expanding pharmacists' scope of practice, according to the Sustainable Solutions Report, would provide other benefits, including reducing physician workload and wait times. The average family doctor wait time is 1.35 days for urgent care and over 3 weeks for nonurgent care. Pharmacists can play a key role in relieving pressure on family physicians, helping to free up time for patients with more complex care needs, the report noted.

Greater access to immunizations via pharmacies, too, could lift workplace productivity. The report said that the average flu season causes an estimated loss of 1.5 million working days in Canada, resulting in health care costs and lost productivity equaling $1 billion. 

The Shoppers Drug Mart report is endorsed by the Ontario Pharmacists Association, the Pharmacists' Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association and the Prince Edward Island Pharmacists Association, as well as the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA).

"We know when pharmacists offer immunization services more people get vaccinated. It's already happening with great success in many provinces," Perry Eisenschmid, CEO of CPhA, said in a statement. "However, to really make an impact, pharmacists in all provinces should be granted the authority to administer common vaccinations like influenza and tetanus, but we need provincial governments' help to make it happen."

Already this flu season in Ontario alone, 446,000 people have received flu vaccinations from pharmacists. According to an economic appraisal of Ontario's universal flu immunization program, such activities can result in a 52% reduction in health care service costs, helping to avoid hospitalizations for the flu. The average cost for an influenza-related hospital stay of six days is more than $6,400, and it costs $220 for an emergency room visit.

In a recent CPhA study, 48% of Canadians said they would likely choose to get their flu shot at a pharmacy if the service was available in their province, and a further 45 per cent said the same of vaccinations overall. And a recent survey of doctors revealed that 61% believed pharmacists in all provinces should be given the authority to vaccinate for flu. Convenience was cited by both groups as the chief benefit to seeing a pharmacist for vaccinations.

That estimate of the increased flu immunization rate stems from an earlier report issued by the broader pharmacy community, "9,000 Points of Care: Improving Access to Affordable Healthcare." That study said improved flu vaccination rates could help to reduce the 75,000 hospital admissions attributed to the flu each year.