Pharmacists may be key to community preparedness against disease

Pharmacists see more patients than any other vaccine provider group and may be the key to preparing the community against pandemics, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

The CDC said that the ubiquity of pharmacies, in addition to their extended hours and streamlined access to preventative treatment, make them ideal for helping to respond to emergencies. Pharmacies could distribute medications, vaccines or protective masks during a pandemic.

According to research funded by the CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, pharmacists in Washington state saw more patients on a daily basis than any other vaccine group and reported lower coverage rates of their staff receiving seasonal and H1N1 influenza vaccines.

Compared with other providers, pharmacists were less likely to have participated in emergency training activities, less likely to rely on local health departments for information about emergencies, more inclined to rely on corporate headquarters, federal sources and professional organizations for information on public health emergencies and willing to work with health departments in vaccine-related public health emergencies.

The research suggests that given the broad reach of pharmacists and their high patient volume, pharmacists could become important first responders to improve the future capability and reach of emergency responses. The CDC suggested improving connections between pharmacists and public health agencies and departments to improve emergency response.

The CDC funded the research through the Immunization Systems Project of the Emory Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center.