Pharmacists and Vaccinations: A Perfect Match

Syringe surrounded by three bottles
Image Source: qimono/pixabay.com

The CDC considers vaccinations to be one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century.1-3 Thanks to vaccines, the incidence, morbidity, mortality, and prevalence of vaccine-preventable diseases have considerably diminished since vaccinations became available. Unfortunately, while vaccines are considered safe and effective in preventing illness, an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 US adults die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year.4-5 In order to improve the overall vaccination rate, it’s important we utilize all our resources. Pharmacists are easily accessible and can be instrumental in providing patients with pertinent information to help them make informed choices regarding immunizations.

Why Vaccines are Important

There are two main benefits for vaccination:

  1. You can help lower your chance of getting certain disease
    • Hepatitis B vaccine lowers your risk of liver cancer.
    • HPV vaccine lowers your risk of cervical cancer.
    • Flu vaccine lowers your risk of flu-related heart attacks or other flu-related complications from existing health conditions like diabetes and chronic lung disease.
  2. You can lower your chance of spreading disease.
    • Some people in your family or community may not be able to get certain vaccines due to their age or health condition. They rely on you to help prevent the spread of disease.
    • Infants, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems (like those undergoing cancer treatment) are especially vulnerable to infectious disease.

Vaccines are both effective and safe. They go through years of testing before the FDA licenses them for use. Both the CDC and FDA continue to track the safety of all licensed vaccines.6

Recommended Immunization Schedules

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the following vaccination schedules:

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/

How Pharmacists can Help

Pharmacists are also in a unique position to identify those patients who are in target groups for certain vaccinations. They may also be able to ease the fears of many patients by providing them with facts such as clinical data and by dispelling common misconceptions and myths about vaccinations; they can also stress the significant risks associated with not being vaccinated.7

Tria Health was founded on the belief that pharmacists play a vital role in the management of high-risk patients. With Tria, you have the option of receiving a one-on-one private consultation with one of Tria Health’s pharmacists over the phone. During your consultation, your pharmacist will review all your current medications, including vitamins, supplements and lifestyle habits. Your pharmacist will be able to answer any questions you may have regarding vaccinations.

Sources:

  1. Oldfield BJ, Stewart RW. Common misconceptions, advancements, and updates in pediatric vaccine administration. South Med J. 2016;109(1):38-41. doi: 10.14423/SMJ.0000000000000399.
  2. Ventola CL. Immunization in the United States: recommendations, barriers, and measures to improve compliance: part 2: adult vaccinations. P T. 2016;41(8):492-506.
  3. Temoka E. Becoming a vaccine champion: evidence-based interventions to address the challenges of vaccination. S D Med. 2013;(theme issue): 68-72.
  4. Bach AT, Goad JA. The role of community pharmacy-based vaccination in the USA: current practice and future directions. Integr Pharm Res Pract. 2015;4:67-77. doi: 10.2147/IPRP.S63822.
  5. Poland GA, Schaffner W, Hopkins RH Jr, US Department of Health & Human Services. Immunization guidelines in the United States: new vaccines and new recommendations for children, adolescents, and adults. Vaccine. 2013;31(42):4689-4693. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2013.03.031.
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/adults/reasons-to-vaccinate.html
  7. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2019/january2019/adult-vaccination-rates-are-rising-but-fall-short

Everything you should know about vaccines

As National Immunization Awareness Month, August is a great time to learn about vaccines and make sure all of your immunizations are up to date. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children be vaccinated for 14 diseases during the first year or two of their lives (see the full recommended vaccine schedule here). Other vaccines are recommended for adolescents, adults and those considering international travel.

A Brief History of Vaccines
Before vaccines were developed, outbreaks of infectious diseases that are now vaccine-preventable – like smallpox, diphtheria and measles – were fatal, especially for children. These diseases created widespread fear and panic, and killed a significant number of those infected. But those who survived developed immunity, and were unable to contract the disease again.

In the late 18th century, the English doctor Edward Jenner used cowpox to develop a vaccine which created immunity against smallpox, similar to the way surviving the disease created immunity. Over the next 200 years, effective and safe vaccines for several other infectious diseases were developed, significantly decreasing the occurrences of these diseases (see a full timeline of vaccine development here).

How do vaccines work?
Vaccines are created using an inactivated or weakened version of the virus that causes the disease. This allows the immune system to prepare the defense it would need to protect the body from the infection-causing virus. Vaccines create immunity to the diseases they prevent, similar to the immunity developed from exposure to a disease. Even though many vaccines are developed using some version of the bacteria that causes the disease, you can’t contract the infection itself from the vaccine, making it safer than developing natural immunity (
if you’re interested in a more in-depth assessment of how vaccines work, look here).

Benefits & Risks
Vaccines have effectively reduced the number of cases of vaccine-preventable diseases 
by more than 90%, and for many diseases by more than 98%. Before the measles vaccine was discovered, there were more than 500,000 cases a year. In 2009, there were 71.

Vaccines don’t just protect individuals, either. If a large enough percentage of a group is immunized, the risk for any member of the group contracting the disease is reduced substantially. It’s called community immunity. If members of that group stop being vaccinated, instances of the disease increase significantly.

There are risks associated with vaccines, but the majority of them are minor (think a little bit of redness or soreness around the injection site or other minor discomforts). The risk of contracting a disease preventable by vaccine is usually much more significant than the risks of side effects. Prior to any vaccination, discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor or pharmacist.

The perceived risks of vaccines, more often than not, are the result of common misconceptions about where vaccines came from and how they work. 

What Vaccinations Do I Need?
The CDC produced a vaccination schedule for all to follow (
the recommended schedule can be found here). Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about your vaccination history or what vaccine requirements you have.