Travel vaccines among expanded pharmacy services

New provincial regulations build on success of flu shots, providing patients with more options

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Ontario’s pharmacists can now administer a wider range of vaccines, providing an extra level of convenience for travellers.

New rules from the Ministry of Health came into effect this month, expanding the services available to patients and giving pharmacists the power to inject vaccines for 13 preventable diseases.

Under the old regulations, patients would need to visit a doctor for the initial prescription, have it filled at the pharmacist, then return to the doctor’s office for the needle. Now, they can skip the second doctor’s visit.

One of the vaccines now on offer is TwinRix, a travel vaccine that protects against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Raj Patel at the Elmira Remedy’s RX Pharmacy says he offers the in-pharmacy vaccinations, and has already seen some interest in travel vaccines like TwinRix.

“I have started receiving some inquiries. The seniors are coming in, those people who are leaving to go to Cuba or Mexico, they are asking questions,” he said. “Things are moving forward. The vaccinations are available and people are asking where they can get it, whether they have to book an appointment, how much they have to pay, whether the vaccinations are free, things like that.”

The newly available vaccinations guard against travel-related illnesses, like  Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, meningococcal disease, pneumococcal disease, yellow fever, rabies and Japanese encephalitis, as well as HPV and shingles and more.

The streamlined vaccination process makes Patel believe he will be seeing more customers and patients in his pharmacy for a shot.

“It is one of the services that I do. As people are aware of the program and they are learning more, they will come here instead of waiting at a doctor’s office to get the shot. It is something that is convenient. It is of interest. They don’t have to wait,” he said. “We dispense and inject at the same time.”

Allan Malek, the senior vice-president of professional affairs at the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association, says pharmacists understand what it is like to be on the other side of the counter.

“Not only am I a pharmacist, but I am also a patient. I know how hard it is to sometimes get into my doctor’s office. They are exceptionally busy. When I want or need to go, may not be when I am able to go based on their schedules,” he said.

The flu shot has been given by pharmacists in Ontario since 2012, and Malek says part of the motivation behind offering more vaccinations at the pharmacy was to build on that success.

“It is really about making these vaccines more timely and more accessible to patients. We have been able to administer flu vaccines since 2012 and the public has welcomed that. It has been quite successful and it just made common sense to expand on that.”

Patients are still able to go to their doctor’s office for a shot, however Malek says Ontario pharmacists are well-trained in how to assess if a vaccine is appropriate, and how to administer it.

“They are already skilled in administration and now they are learning what questions they need to be asking with regard to travel, so they are prepared,” he said. “There certainly is a professional component to the act of injecting a vaccine. You need to see if the patient is eligible at that particular time, but the actual administration is almost irrespective of the vaccine itself. The pharmacists go through extensive training and we continue to do that.”

The Ontario Pharmacists Association released a report estimating that giving pharmacists the ability to give patients a shot, would result in an additional 4.3 million vaccines administered for pneumococcal diseases, approximately 7.6 million additional vaccinations for shingles, and 275,000 additional HPV vaccines over the next 30 years.

Liz Bevan
Liz Bevan is a reporter and photographer for The Observer. She has written for community newspapers in western Canada and has been published in national newspapers and magazines.