Bill seeks to broaden druggists' powers

Measure would let them administer flu vaccine

General Assembly

March 05, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Before the fevers, aches and hacking coughs of flu season strike next fall, some lawmakers are hoping there will be more than 7,000 additional ways for Marylanders to get vaccinated.

Two bills filed in the House and Senate would broaden pharmacists' powers to administer flu shots and nasal sprays to help adults stave off the influenza virus.

If the legislation approved by the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and the House Health and Government Operations Committee is approved by the full General Assembly, pharmacists around the state would operate under similar standing orders that govern nurses at company-sponsored flu shot days, allowing them to give shots and sprays to people older than age 18.

Maryland is among a handful of states - most in the Northeast, where the flu hits hardest - where legislators are considering such laws. Currently, only registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians and physician assistants are allowed to administer immunizations in the state. But in 40 other states, including Virginia and Delaware, pharmacists are permitted to immunize adults.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta doesn't weigh in on state legislation to expand pharmacists' powers. But the agency supports increasing access to immunizations in community settings, such as grocery stores, drugstores and malls - especially in the wake of the recent flu season, when people who might not otherwise have sought vaccination found more opportunities to get the shots in places their local druggist could administer them.

"Ideally you'd like to see vaccinations given in a medical [setting], but it's not absolutely clear the existing system has the capacity to deliver all the vaccine doses in a three- or four-month influenza campaign," Dennis O'Mara, associate director for adult immunization at the national immunization program at the CDC.

Mitch Rothholz, vice president for professional practice at the Washington.-based American Pharmacists Association, the national professional society of pharmacists, pointed out that in states where pharmacists are allowed to dispense vaccines immunization rates are higher.

"It's because of increased awareness," Rothholz said. "It absolutely provides more access for patients."

There are 7,248 licensed pharmacists in Maryland, meaning that many more opportunities for immunization, Rothholz added.

The current flu season has been a particularly bad one nationwide. In Maryland, there have been 2,157 lab-confirmed cases of influenza since mid-November, said J.B. Hanson, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. There were fewer than 200 during the previous season.

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