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Florida Voices: Vital Vaccines Made Easy

Monday, August 27, 2012

During an often combative legislative session earlier this year, leaders put their differences aside to enact this common-sense proposal that will keep people healthy and reduce health costs.  Until this year, Florida was one of a handful of states that did not permit pharmacists to offer these vaccines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thousands of older adults die or suffer serious complications from vaccine-preventable illnesses, including shingles and pneumonia.

Shingles, caused by the chicken pox virus that reactivates years or decades later, causes a painful, blistering rash and can cause chronic long-term pain. One in three Americans will eventually suffer from shingles, unless vaccination rates improve.

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can lead to serious complications including difficulty breathing and in 50,000 severe cases each year, death.  Older adults and young children are more likely than other age groups to contract the illness.

The CDC recommends single-dose vaccinations for both pneumonia and shingles to protect older adults.  Yet, many people are not getting these vaccines.  Data from the 2009 National Health Interview Survey show that shingles vaccination rates are extremely low, with only about 11 percent of the majority population receiving the vaccine, and even smaller percentages among minorities.  And, while nearly two-thirds of the majority population age 65 and over is vaccinated against pneumonia, that rate falls to less than half among Hispanics and African Americans.

Allowing pharmacists to administer more vaccines is a common-sense way to increase vaccination rates.  For many people, it is more convenient to obtain a vaccine while on a regular visit to the pharmacy to pick up medication than it is to schedule a doctor’s visit.  And, as physician shortages continue to affect both urban and rural areas, pharmacists can deliver this much-needed health service quickly and at minimal cost to people who might not have access otherwise.

Florida is a large and diverse state. Its older population, especially those in minority groups, will benefit from this type of creative approach to health-care delivery.

We already have proof that increasing the availability of vaccinations at pharmacies is a strategy that works.  Pharmacists have been administering the seasonal flu vaccine in Florida since 2007.  Since that time, immunization rates have increased, and fewer people have been hospitalized for flu complications.

We expect equally positive results from passage of this legislation.

The governor and state legislators should be commended for putting aside partisan differences during and election year to enact legislation that will save lives and improve Floridians’ quality of life.

Jeff Johnson is the state director of AARP Florida.

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