Pharmacy-based immunization: An essential health strategy

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how crucial vaccines are for global health as it has also increased awareness of vaccinations. To increase immunization coverage, healthcare systems have supported new and innovative settings. This situation has created a growing call for pharmacy-based vaccination programs.

Typically, patients can get vaccinated at the hospital through a doctor. The good news is Filipinos can now secure their adult vaccines such as pneumococcal and flu through local pharmacies and community drug stores for convenience and ease of access.

The pharmacist’s role in immunization practice stands as educator, facilitator, and immunizer. They are now trained and certified to administer as adult immunizers to expand the network of allied healthcare professionals united against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Community pharmacists are perceived as a highly qualified and accessible professional group bridging the gap of immunization in the country and providing vaccination in community pharmacies, not only for Covid-19, but also for any other infectious disease, can increase the vaccination coverage rate and help reduce the workload of the health-care system.

Vaccination saves millions of lives and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Immunization provides the best protection against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Pneumonia is a serious health issue worldwide. Marked by swelling or inflammation in one or both lungs, it is usually caused by an infection brought about by exposure to certain bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

In the Philippines, pneumonia is the sixth leading cause of death in 2022. It remains a leading cause of hospitalization and mortality among the elderly and people living with chronic diseases.

While its severity can range from mild to life-threatening, pneumonia is most severe and fatal for infants under two years old, older adults over 65 years old, people with weakened or compromised immune systems (those with diabetes, undergoing cancer treatments, etc), and people with chronic health conditions that affect the heart and lungs. It also tops the list of illnesses that the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation processes claims and reimbursements annually.

While pneumonia can be deadly, it is also a vaccine-preventable disease. Thus, with the aim to raise the level of awareness of the public about this deadly disease, and what can be done to help prevent infection and to promote the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration in the implementation of programs and strategies to address the growing burden of pneumonia, Southstar Drug Inc. — in partnership with the local government unit of Angeles, Pampanga led by Vice Mayor Ma. Vicenta Vega-Cabigting, Brigadier General Jose Hidalgo Jr., and the Regional Advisory Group-Police Regional Office 3 — mounted a one-day Health Fair for 200 uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, dependents and advocacy groups of the Angeles City Police Office at Camp Tomas Pepito.

A ceremonial vaccination of uniformed personnel was done onsite facilitated by immunizing pharmacists Janette Gerona, RPH and Verna Espiritu, RPh. The pneumonia vaccine available during the event protects the police officers for five years.

Gerona expressed hopes that after the two police officers pioneer the vaccination against pneumonia, more of their fellow policemen would be enjoined to be inoculated as well.

“Ang ginagawa po natin ngayon – it’s not just a cure. We are working towards disease prevention,” Vega said to the policemen of PRO 3.

Southstar Drug AVP-Robinson’s Retail Jinky Guanlao stated that the engagement’s efforts are to safeguard the health of the police officers who stand as our frontliners and in turn safeguard the public.

Global healthcare company MSD in the Philippines also supported the event through Dr. Suzanne Ponio Degollado facilitating a lay lecture on pneumonia and the importance of vaccination in preventing this disease.

“Ang karaniwang nasa isip natin pag sinabing bakuna: para sa mga bata lang yan,” Degollado said.

However, she stressed that because of Covid-19, the public has been made aware that vaccination remains one of the most important and cost-effective tools for everyone to prevent infectious diseases, like pneumonia. She cited that vaccination is highly recommended by the Department of Health for older people, and those who are at high risk for pneumonia.

According to the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccines or pneumococcal conjugate vaccines are recommended for adults 50 years old and above to prevent invasive pneumococcal diseases.

The current PSMID adult immunization guidelines recommend two pneumococcal vaccines, given in a sequential approach. The vaccines are usually given one year apart, or eight weeks for those who are immunocompromised.

Despite vaccines being readily available, safe, and effective, vaccine hesitancy remains. Of those aware of the pneumococcal vaccine, only 53 percent are vaccinated.

Now, there are multiple channels where patients can get their pneumonia vaccines. Apart from hospitals and clinics, high-risk individuals can also visit their local pharmacies to get the jab. At the same time, vulnerable groups such as the elderly (indigent senior citizens) can also get their free pneumococcal vaccinations through the barangay health centers of their local government units.


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