The Rural Community Pharmacy: Vaccine Administration

First Financial Bank
In rural communities where the population is spread across many miles and physician numbers are few, pharmacists fill a critical role as healthcare resources. While the need for physicians will never be replaced, services that pharmacists offer are bolstering the overall health of rural communities – especially vaccine administration.

With the federal COVID-19 vaccination program, rural pharmacies have been in the spotlight for filling a critical need in their communities. Vaccine administration has been a part of the pharmacy business prior to this and will likely only continue to grow as Americans recognize the value of this service that their community pharmacist can offer.

Who can do what

Different states vary in their regulations of vaccine administration by pharmacists. While pharmacists can provide vaccines to adults in all 50 states, currently only 27 states allow pharmacists to administer vaccines to people of any age. The remaining states vary on the minimum age and which vaccines pharmacists are qualified to administer in their respective states.

In all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, pharmacists can administer flu vaccines to patients. Age limitations still apply, but this capability allows rural populations to have a broader access to this life-saving vaccine that can help lessen the weight of flu season on rural medical systems. Other vaccines that pharmacists may administer vary from state to state but may include herpes zoster, hepatitis A and B, meningococcal, HPV and tetanus.

From time to time, states may also expand the authority of pharmacists to administer vaccines in response to critical needs. For instance, in the 2018 flu season New York expanded the ability for pharmacists to vaccinate children ages 2-18 against the flu during that season.

The COVID-19 pandemic has once again expanded the need and the role of pharmacists in serving their rural communities. With the COVID-19 vaccine, each state has specifically regulated administration, including how and who pharmacists may vaccinate against the disease. As supply and demand changes, these protocols also adapt. Check with your state’s regulatory agency to determine what the current requirements are for you to participate. For pharmacists that previously hadn’t offered vaccines, it has prompted them to consider adding other vaccination services to their regular business offerings.

Preparing to administer vaccines

In order to administer vaccinations there are specific protocols that must be followed to allow pharmacists to offer this service. First, pharmacists must become certified by an Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education accredited course in immunization and delivery. You can find these courses through your state pharmacy association, local university or school of pharmacy, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), or organizations which host APhA certificate training programs. The pharmacist will also need to be certified in CPR/Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers through the American Red Cross or American Heart Association and maintain current certification. Training in blood borne pathogens is also necessary in order to maintain OSHA compliance.

If your state requires it, a standing order from a doctor to administer vaccinations may allow the pharmacist to administer vaccines without a direct order from a physician. Finally, if required by your state, you will need to complete an application and submit all required documents to become certified as a vaccine provider by the state.

Getting your pharmacy ready

In addition to getting yourself ready to administer, your pharmacy may need some adjustments to support administering vaccines on a regular basis:

  • Creating a comfortable setup for the client to sit while it is being administered and for any waiting period required to monitor them for an adverse reaction.
  • Some additional supplies you may want/need, including educational fliers for clients about the vaccines you offer.
  • You’ll want to reach out to your suppliers about which vaccines are available from whom, plus how to handle and store properly.

As you consider offering vaccination services, always consult your trusted advisors and state boards for the requirements and recommendations for your specific situation. And when you do offer vaccine administration, don’t forget to update your signage, website, and marketing materials to let your clients know!

Looking at other trends and possible opportunities for your pharmacy? Check out this article. Want to chat about your plans? Give us a call.

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