Flu shot uptake higher in provinces that allow vaccination by pharmacists: study

Toronto – Residents of provinces that allow pharmacists to administer flu shots are more likely to get vaccinated against the seasonal bug, a study has found.

In a paper published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers found that a slightly higher proportion of residents got their annual influenza shots in provinces where pharmacists are allowed to give them – 30 per cent compared to 28 per cent in provinces where they aren’t.

While that’s a relatively small difference, it means that at an individual level, people who live in a province where there is a pharmacist policy were five per cent more likely to get the flu shot, said principal researcher Dr. Jeff Kwong of Public Health Ontario.

“It might be making their lives easier to get flu shots,” said Kwong, who’s also a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

“So for the people who want to get their flu shot, it’s probably easier for them to get it at a pharmacy than to, for instance, take a half-day off from work to make an appointment to go see their doctor to get the flu shot.”

The 2007-2014 study examined data for more than 481,500 people aged 12 years and older from the Canadian Community Health Survey, which every two years collects information on health status and health-care use among a representative sample of the country’s residents.

The study includes British Columbia and Alberta, which had pharmacy flu shot policies in effect in 2009, New Brunswick (2010), Ontario (2012) and Nova Scotia (2013). The research doesn’t cover Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island or Saskatchewan, which introduced their pharmacist policies after 2013.

“I would say this study presents kind of the early experience, the first couple of years of the impact of the pharmacists policy,” Kwong said. “I think if we repeated the study in a few years, we might have a larger increase, showing a larger impact.”

Authorizing pharmacists to provide seasonal flu shots could increase inoculation rates, which each year hover around 30 per cent of the population, a figure public health officials would like to see raised much higher.

Kwong said although the difference in flu vaccine uptake between the two groups wasn’t significant, that may change as more provinces allow pharmacists to give the inoculations.

For one thing, the majority of Canadians live near a drugstore, he said, and an unrelated pilot study suggested that 80 per cent of vaccine recipients prefer receiving their shot in the arm at pharmacy-based clinics.

“There might not be a huge increase yet … but I think (it is) useful having pharmacists give flu shots because it increases capacity and it frees up doctors and nurses to do other things,” Kwong said.

“A lot to people trust their pharmacists and so they’re an important part of the health-care system, so they can help deliver public-health interventions as well.”

By Sheryl Ubelacker
The Canadian Press

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