As flu season continues the question is - did you get it? Dr. Waite, Dr. Houle and her team hope the answer is “yes, I got the flu vaccine!” Here’s why:
Ontario pharmacists have been able to give the influenza vaccine to patients since 2012. Dr. Nancy Waite, Dr. Sherilyn Houle (right) and their team of researchers through the Ontario Pharmacist Research Collaboration have been investigating the impact of this service ever since.
Drawing from health administration data, interviews, and surveys from across the province, OPEN’s Pharmacists as Immunizers project continues to demonstrate that pharmacist-immunizers are a boon to Ontario’s healthcare system.
Last year, OPEN examined who gets vaccinated at a pharmacy, and reported that pharmacist-administered flu vaccinations accounted for nearly 1 million of the immunizations in Ontario. OPEN’s ongoing research is now identifying the upstream positive impacts of the service.
Who gets their flu shot from a pharmacy?
The data collected by OPEN suggests that younger individuals who live in moderate to high income neighbourhoods are more likely to be vaccinated in pharmacies. This includes those who do not visit the doctor as often, or do not regularly get their flu shot from a physician, or, as Dr. Waite puts it:
“Patients who are healthier, wealthier, and busier tend to get their flu-shot from a pharmacist.” She elaborates: “These are patients who are on the go, such as active professionals on their way home from work. The convenience of popping into the pharmacy for your flu shot fits with their life schedule not someone else’s schedule.”
The number of Ontarians receiving influenza immunizations has been rising ever since 2012 when the service was introduced, and the ability to offer a convenient service to this busy demographic accounts for some of that increase.
Getting vaccinated saves the healthcare system money
It’s vital that patients, especially the elderly, young, or those with chronic diseases, get the flu shot to stay healthy and prevent long term illness. By taking preventive measures, the whole healthcare system benefits.
“Getting your flu shot usually means staying healthier throughout the winter,” explains Waite. “This results in fewer sick days or time off work and keeps hospital and physician wait times down so that more Ontarians can receive health services.”
Through examining the number of vaccinations administered and estimating the productivity costs and direct outcome costs that the flu would otherwise incur, Dr. Houle proposes that the increased number of Ontarians vaccinated since pharmacists began administering the flu shot is expected to positively impact both health system costs and productivity:
"Being vaccinated reduces the risk of complications from the flu, which benefits our health system. Our research also suggests that there is a productivity benefit that results from pharmacists administering vaccines." She elaborates that:
The accessibility of pharmacies outside of regular office hours means that less time off work is required to receive the vaccine, and being vaccinated also reduces the chance that people will need to take time off work due to influenza illness compared to not being vaccinated. We expect this to result in cost advantages to both the health system and the economy.
But beyond systemic savings, Ontario patients are also pleased with the pharmacist-immunizer experience. OPEN surveyed patients who received their flu shot from a pharmacist and found that 95% expressed that they were ‘very satisfied’ with the service provided.
The public also indicated support for pharmacists administering additional vaccines, such as the shingles and hepatitis vaccines.