Vaccinations by pharmacists a sticking point in Pa.

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 10:46 a.m.

Sam and Shannyn Giesey say it would be easier to run their children to the local drugstore for state-required immunizations than to go to a pediatrician.

They wouldn't need an appointment or to find time in their schedules to sit in a doctor's office, they said.

“I don't have a problem with pharmacists doing it,” said Shannyn, 29, of Ross. “They're educated, and they know all the medications. As long as they're trained to stick a needle.”

State Rep. Seth Grove has introduced legislation to permit pharmacists to vaccinate 7- to 17-year-olds. State law limits pharmacy-administered vaccinations to those 18 and older.

The York Republican said increasing access would increase the immunization rate, especially in rural areas where there are fewer doctors.

“I have two young boys and I can walk into a pharmacy with them and the pharmacist could give me a vaccination, but for them he couldn't,” Grove said. “I see a real problem with providing access for kids being able to get vaccinations.”

But the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Pennsylvania Medical Society and Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians have panned the bill. They say doctors are best qualified to deal with a negative drug reaction, should one occur.

Grove argues that all 50 states allow pharmacists to immunize. Thirteen have no age restrictions, and 36 allow pharmacists to immunize people younger than 18.

Advocates say pharmacists are extensively trained in administering vaccines and they routinely immunize adults.

“I would say not all pharmacists are qualified, but the pharmacists who are trained and continue to go through the training regimen I would say are just as qualified, if not more qualified, (to vaccinate children),” said Tim Davis, owner of the Beaver Health Mart and Beaver Falls Health Mart pharmacies in Beaver County. “I've been immunizing adults for years.”

Dr. Shafia Memon, a pediatrician in Allegheny General Hospital, said doctors know family medical history and their patients better than a pharmacist would.

She said doctors are trained to interpret signs during an exam that might indicate whether a child is healthy enough for a vaccination. She questioned the reliability of pharmacies and parents to report a pharmacy-administered vaccination to a child's pediatrician so it can be included in medical history.

“(In a doctor's office) you have charts, you have electronic records, you have some kind of indication about whether the child should actually have a vaccination,” she said. “How can a pharmacist just kind of say, ‘OK,' when they do not have the knowledge to say that?”

Susanne Yunghans, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, questioned the need to have more people vaccinating children.

“It's not like there's a problem out there,” she said. “Yet maybe people want the convenience of walking into the Wal-Mart Pharmacy and getting a flu vaccine for their child. I can buy it for adults, because adults can make their own decision, but kids can't. They're going to be dependent on parents.”

To attend school in Pennsylvania, children must be immunized for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, rubella, mumps, hepatitis B and chickenpox. Before entering seventh grade, they must receive a meningitis vaccination.

Pennsylvania lagged behind the national median for immunizations last school year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provided national percentages only for diphtheria and tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella and chickenpox.

The Pennsylvania Health Department reported that 90.7 percent of kindergartners were immunized for diphtheria and tetanus, compared with a national median of 95 percent; 87 percent were immunized for measles, mumps and rubella, compared with 94.7 percent nationally; and 85.7 percent were immunized for chickenpox, compared with 93.8 percent nationally.

Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole said county records show a 95 percent compliance rate for all required immunizations.

Aimee Benedict, health services coordinator and a school nurse in the Quaker Valley School District, said nurses review medical charts submitted by new students before each school year to make sure they are immunized.

The district holds those who aren't out of school, and that has happened in the past. Benedict could not provide specific numbers, but said most children come to school with vaccinations.

“Having another alternative way to get immunizations, I don't think is harmful,” she said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or

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