March 4, 2010

Pharmacists can now do vaccinations


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Pharmacist Katie McCall administers a flu shot Thursday to Shaughn Cargill at the Osco Pharmacy in the Western Avenue Shaw’s store in Augusta.

Joe Phelan

Staff Writer

Maine pharmacists are now able to do more than dispense medication and advice.

A state law that took effect Thursday allows pharmacists to give flu shots and other immunizations. Health care professionals say the measure is a boon for Maine's rural residents, who often have had to travel long distances to doctors' offices for inoculations.

The law also widens the network of health care workers who can vaccinate against H1N1 flu this fall.

''This is big. This is all about access,'' said Paul Chace, a pharmacist and owner of Old Port Pharmacy on Middle Street in Portland.

Maine is the last state in the nation to allow pharmacists to give immunizations. Some states, such as New York, have allowed it for decades.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. George Hogan, D-Old Orchard Beach, said he didn't realize that Maine was behind the rest of the nation until an out-of-state customer at his variety store told him.

''I was amazed,'' Hogan said.

This summer, Chace and his wife, Karen, took the 20 hours of required training through the University of New England's new College of Pharmacy. Chace now has his certification from the Board of Pharmacy.

So far, nearly 50 of Maine's 1,724 licensed pharmacists have received the required training, and more than a dozen have been certified.

Pharmacies have long offered flu clinics, but they had to hire nurses and other licensed health care workers to give vaccines at the clinics. Now, pharmacists can offer the service themselves.

A pharmacy may give immunizations against both the H1N1 and seasonal flus, including the intranasal vaccine, as well as vaccines and boosters against pneumonia, shingles, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

The flu vaccines require no physician's prescription, but the other immunizations do. Some pharmacists will be able to prescribe and give the vaccinations for patients who do not have doctors.

Pharmacists said that in the past, doctors fought against extending pharmacists' scope of practice to administering vaccines. But with the H1N1 flu pandemic under way, Hogan's proposal faced virtually no opposition this year.

''As physicians become more squeezed for time and with the reimbursement for giving vaccinations pretty low, they were actually more supportive than in the past,'' said Joe Bruno, a pharmacist who is chief executive officer of Community Pharmacy, a 10-store chain based in Augusta.

Kenneth ''Mac'' McCall, associate professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the University of New England's College of Pharmacy, said the law will help Maine reach its goal of a 90 percent flu vaccination rate among the elderly by 2010. It now stands at 66 percent.

Nationally, McCall said, physicians have become more supportive of widening the services provided by pharmacists, who go to pharmacy school for six years. About 30 states now allow pharmacists to prescribe and manage medicines. They work under physicians to manage patients' medication, such as blood thinners, which require fine tuning to set precise doses.

Not all pharmacists want to administer vaccines. Bruno said that only seven of the 30 pharmacists in his company requested the training.

Pharmacists say the younger generation tends to be more interested in the clinical-care aspects of the job. Those pharmacists are eager to administer vaccines. Students now attending pharmacy schools all graduate with the required training.

Chace, who will start offering the vaccines next week at his pharmacy, said the law will give people more flexibility.

''People in business who miss their own clinics at work can now drop by,'' he said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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