Auburn's pharmacy school seeks to improve immunization rates with community pharmacies across Alabama

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Researchers in the Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University are working with community pharmacies to enhance immunization services and increase immunization rates of Alabamians.

Associate Professor Salisa Westrick, who has been researching pharmacy-based immunization services for more than a decade, said many vaccines are currently available in pharmacies, and since many patients may benefit from vaccinations, pharmacists are in an ideal position to provide recommendations and administer vaccines.

Westrick said there is room for enhancement in immunization rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 30 percent of adults age 60 or older have reported receiving the herpes zoster vaccination, which is used to prevent shingles.

When a patient picks up a medication, she said the pharmacists can assess if the patient should be recommended for a certain vaccine, based on immunization schedules recommended by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Westrick and Assistant Professor Kimberly Garza, both in the pharmacy school's Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy, have created a research study to provide participating pharmacies with practical day-to-day strategies to improve the number of pneumococcal and herpes zoster or shingles vaccines administered. Pharmacy-based immunization services can reach those patients who may not make regular doctor visits.

In the end, they hope to determine the intervention's effectiveness. The study is funded by the pharmaceutical company, Merck & Co.

Westrick and Garza have teamed up with two faculty members at Keck Graduate Institute School of Pharmacy in Claremont, California, as a means of including minority populations – African-Americans in Alabama and Hispanics in California – as vaccine recipients in the study. Westrick said minorities almost always have lower vaccination rates than Caucasians and therefore could have the most to gain from this study.

The research team is currently seeking pharmacists and technicians from 64 community pharmacies – 32 in each state – to participate in the study. Participants will receive intervention training through a free, two-hour online course. They will also receive monthly expert advice. The training is designed to equip community pharmacies with practical strategies needed to identify patients who could benefit from the pneumococcal or shingles vaccines and to talk to them about it.

Half of the 32 participating pharmacies in each state will receive the intervention training. The remaining pharmacies will serve as a control group; this is to test the intervention effectiveness. All pharmacies receive the basic immunization update.

Alabama has more than 1,200 community pharmacies, which include chain, grocery store and independent outlets. Westrick said they are focused on participation from community pharmacies in several counties throughout the state, including Montgomery, Jefferson, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Lee, Madison, Elmore, Morgan and Walker counties.

"Our project teaches practical strategies to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians that they will integrate into their busy work day," she said. "By involving technicians, they too can learn what medications are indicators of high-risk conditions and how to ask a patient about their vaccination status.

"There's a lot of misunderstanding about these vaccines. People who had the pneumococcal vaccine years ago may not be aware that there is a different pneumococcal vaccine available. As a health care provider, a pharmacist should make a vaccine recommendation, and I believe patients should ask their pharmacists for vaccine recommendations to make sure they are protected against preventable diseases."

For more information about the study, visit

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