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State law improves access to vaccines
health perscription

A state law that’s been in place for less than six months has improved access to key vaccines for Georgia adults.

The legislation allows pharmacists and nurses to administer vaccines for influenza, pneumococcal disease, shingles and meningitis.  This is a big development for Georgia pharmacists, who have been administering flu vaccine to all comers since 2009 and other shots to people with individual prescriptions from a doctor.

Now a pharmacy can enter into a blanket agreement with a physician, called a vaccine protocol, and can administer any of the four vaccines to customers.

Individual prescriptions, such as the one that Athens resident Michael Posey got from his doctor before the law went into effect, are no longer needed. He’s been seeing the same physician for years, “and when I was approaching 60, he started recommending that I get vaccine against herpes zoster — the shingles vaccine.”

Posey’s doctor didn’t keep that vaccine in the office, however, and there were reimbursement issues. “So basically he gave me a prescription, and I eventually got it at a pharmacy,” said Posey, who is a pharmacist himself.

People with limited access to a doctor stand to gain from the new law. Several Georgia counties have no primary care doctors, and transportation is an issue for low-income people in rural and urban areas.

Still, 93 percent of Georgia residents live within five miles of a pharmacy.

Insured people such as Posey also benefit from the new rule, since not all doctors offer vaccinations. Physicians who only rarely get requests for inoculations may decide it’s not practical to keep certain vaccines on hand, given the special storage that’s required.

The storage issue is something the public rarely hears about, but vaccines are sensitive. They have limited shelf lives and can be rendered ineffective by too much exposure to heat, cold or light.

“For example, the shingles vaccine has to be kept frozen. It has to be administered within 30 minutes after it comes out of the freezer,” said Andy Ullrich, the pharmacist who owns Hawthorne Drugs, an independent pharmacy that has been operating in Athens since 1977.

Each dose of shingles vaccine is worth about $200, and once it is thawed, it must be used within that half-hour window or discarded.

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