Pharmacists’ role in flu prevention

Global Health Matters
1st November 2016
By Matthew Downham, PHD

Pharmacists’ role in flu prevention

According to recent World Health Organization (WHO) data, in South America flu and other respiratory viruses declined in most countries. Overall, taking the flu shot is the best way to avoid the flu. When fewer people get the vaccine, the virus spreads more quickly, meaning more people are exposed to it and eventually puts vulnerable people at risk. As part of a collective action, letting pharmacists (along with other healthcare providers) give safe flu shots helps boost protection against flu because pharmacists are convenient and accessible. They are in an ideal position to provide immunization services to the community. Thus patients often go to pharmacists for information, education, and administration of the flu vaccine.

In this context and on behalf of the International Influenza Vaccine Supply group of IFPMA, I had the opportunity to take part in the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) Congress round table held in August 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and think it interesting to provide some information about the key takeaways of the event, especially those aiming at preventing the spread of flu and saving lives in this region and beyond.

The event was opened by the FIP President, Ms Carmen Pena, followed by a presentation from Dr Helena Rosado, of the University College London, UK on the key findings of a valuable and interesting report entitled “An Overview of Current Pharmacy Impact on Immunisation: A Global Report (2016)”. Some 40-45 FIP executives from across the global regions attended the round table discussion and generated detailed and exciting debate. FIP congress tweets following the round table were very positive referencing the informative, constructive value that the expert panel provided and that the moderator, Ema Paulino (FIP Portugal), greatly facilitated.

So what was it all about? The round table was convened to address key questions relating to the fact that pharmacists are increasingly becoming flu vaccine administrators globally, the perceived challenges they may face and how they can overcome these moving forward. Questions discussed included the value of immunization by pharmacists to the healthcare system, effective measures to enhance immunization by pharmacists, core principles of immunization by pharmacists, replicating practices to more countries, the barriers/challenges to flu vaccination by pharmacists and how to overcome them, integrating practices, and collaborating with healthcare systems and clinical teams.

The round table panel discussion that followed revolved around pharmacist training – the criticality of this and how to ensure it is successful for a wide range of nations and regions. The panel was also quizzed on a range of topics such as the means to raise pharmacist and public awareness to facilitate appreciation of flu vaccination importance;  improving vaccine uptake on response to the perception that vaccines don’t always work – requiring advocacy promotion in pharmacies, information provision and promotion campaigns; handling adverse events and providing support to the pharmacists in compliance with local legislation; the complexity of supply and country specific issues particularly with regards to ensuring cold chain maintenance, understanding the complexity of vaccine manufacture and supply in addition to potential issues such as vaccine shortfall within season; in country advocacy requirements especially where there has been some resistance to pharmacists taking on vaccination responsibilities. All of these topics were substantiated with descriptions of how flu vaccination challenges and barriers have been overcome in certain areas of the world such as Canada, Australia, and USA.

As a consequence of the round table a number of IFPMA-FIP collaboration opportunities were identified to help raise awareness on importance of flu immunization with all stakeholders including pharmacists. How? Simply by supporting broadening knowledge and understanding of pharmacists flu vaccination role; second, by leveraging IFPMA collaboration with other FIP collaborating partners, and third by supporting workshops to roll out and train pharmacists as flu vaccine administrators globally. Capacity building and training of pharmacists in three core curricula have also been identified important in areas of supply chain, advocacy, and an in-country support to address many potential legal and clinical aspects for the FIP to consider.

IFPMA will also use the opportunity of the 77th World FIP Congress in Seoul, Korea from 10 to 14 September 2017 to organize special sessions on related hot topics such as training initiatives, flu vaccine manufacture and supply, and support flu vaccinations in country like having pharmacists vaccinated and photographed/filmed as FIP delegate in home country promotion material.