IU research: Pharmacy flu shots popular but don't lead to higher vaccination rate

  • Oct. 24, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Americans increasingly are getting their flu shots at a pharmacy instead of a doctor’s office, but that’s not boosting the number of people vaccinated, according to new Indiana University research.

In what is believed to be the first nationwide study to evaluate the effect of pharmacy-based immunization regulations, the researchers analyzed data from several sources and reached three major conclusions:

  • Pharmacists at locations ranging from the CVS chain to locally owned outlets are providing millions of vaccines as a consequence of a change in state laws. Beginning in the 1990s, states began permitting pharmacists to administer flu vaccines, which previously had been solely the responsibility of physicians and nurses. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of vaccines dispensed in pharmacies increased from 3.2 million to 20.9 million
  • The dramatic increase in pharmacy vaccinations has had minimal impact on the overall adult vaccination rate. “Possibly what is happening is people who were already planning to be vaccinated are shifting their business from a doctor’s office or medical clinic to a pharmacy at Target or Walgreens,” said Coady Wing of IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, a co-author of the study. “One possible explanation is that pharmacies are a more convenient place for people to get what they want, which is to be vaccinated. In that sense, people who want to be vaccinated benefit from allowing pharmacy-based vaccinations.”
  • The rise in pharmacy-based vaccinations doesn’t appear to significantly decrease utilization of other preventive health services. In theory, that could have been a problem since doctors might bundle a flu shot with other preventive services such as blood tests and breast exams. But the data show virtually no change in routine physician office visits, Wing said. Whether the changes in pharmacy regulations led to a decrease in medical clinic flu vaccinations is a question not answered in the data analyzed the study.

Even though the adult vaccination rate has remained essentially unchanged, co-author Kevin McConeghy of the Providence, R.I., Veterans Affairs Medical Center said the evidence suggests that allowing pharmacists to give flu shots has been a success.

“Pharmacies are located in rural and urban areas. You don’t need an appointment, they accept insurance plans or cash, and they operate on expanded hours relative to primary-care clinics or other vaccinators,” McConeghy said. “In the end, patients are the winners, and that isn’t always the case in health care.”

An article about the research by Wing and McConeghy, "A national examination of pharmacy-based immunization statutes and their association with influenza vaccinations and preventive health," was published in the journal Vaccine.

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Jim Hanchett

  • School of Public and Environmental Affairs
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  • jimhanch@indiana.edu