TORRINGTON – It’s flu season and that means getting immunized.
For many, that also means calls to a clinic or doctor’s office and possibly lengthy waits for an appointment. For a growing number of individuals, however, getting the latest iteration of the flu vaccine can be as easy as a quick trip to the local pharmacy.
Across the country over the past decade or more, from big-chain pharmacies to small, local drug stores, a growing number of common immunizations have become available. As fast as you can walk in and ask, you can get a flu shot, pneumonia immunization, protect yourself against shingles and more.
“This makes it more convenient for people,” said Kim Deti, spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Health in Cheyenne. Immunizations “are one of the top two or three public health success stories of the last century or so.”
In Torrington, Community Drug and the Shopko Pharmacy are currently staffed with these “immunizing pharmacists.” John Walter, his mother, Jancy, and new pharmacist T.J. Ewald at Community Drug and Bryan Watson at the Shopko Pharmacy are all certified to provide a variety of immunizations. Ashley McDonnell, the pharmacist at Vandel Drug downtown, is working on her certification.
“It’s becoming a lot more prevalent,” John Walter said. “There’s a lot of data to show the population at large was not being immunized properly.
“That’s what led to the push nationally to get pharmacists involved,” he said. “We have easy access to patients – they can just walk in.”
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention correlate decreases in illness with increases in immunization rates. In the case of the flu, for example, even for individuals who can’t be immunized for one of a variety of reasons, the increased number of people who can – and do – increases the “herd immunity,” Walter said, lessening the chance the un-immunized will be exposed.
Immunizing pharmacist certifications have been legal in Wyoming since around 2010, Shopko’s Watson said. He received his certification in early 2011.
Immunizing pharmacists have to be licensed by the Wyoming State Board of Pharmacy. It can take a year or more for the training and testing to be certified and licensed.
But pharmacy schools are recognizing the benefits of their graduates being trained to give immunization. Ewald at Community Drug, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy, received his sheep skin with immunization certification attached.
“When I was in school – I graduated in 2007 – it wasn’t really anything the (University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy) did,” Walter said.
The training primarily centers around learning what immunizations are appropriate for an individual and at what intervals they can be given, he said. It’s mostly following recommendations and guidelines established by the CDC, Walter said.
“You learn to look at the person in front of you and make sure there aren’t any issues,” he said. “Then do the immunization.”
Getting immunized at the local pharmacy isn’t going to replace a trip to the family doctor any time soon. Currently in Wyoming, immunizing pharmacists are limited to a handful of immunizations they can give – flu, shingles, pneumonia, and a combination injection with tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, or whooping cough.
But, for many, the convenience of being able to stop by the pharmacy while out running errands and get inoculated is the real benefit, Walter, Watson and McDonnell said. And that availability is particularly vital in rural areas, many of which have a limited number of doctors.
“A lot of people around here live out of town,” Watson said. “They can come in here when they’re out getting their groceries.”