Partnering with Pharmacies to Improve Pandemic Preparedness

Submitted By

Margie Young, Sr. Tech/Admin Specialist
Crow Wing County Community Services, Minnesota
June 18, 2015

Community Services Health Division in Crow Wing County, MN, no longer has an immunization program and has reduced its nursing staff in the years since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Even prior to the loss of the immunization program, the health department did not have the staff capacity to man mass clinics during a large-scale disease outbreak. However, when the next pandemic hits, Crow Wing County will still be able to successfully respond, in part because of the strong partnerships that developed with community clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies during the H1N1 outbreak.

At that time, pharmacies were relatively new to administering immunizations. Minnesota allowed pharmacists to begin administering certain vaccinations in 2003, and but didn’t incorporate influenza vaccinations until 2009. Because the new law had been passed so recently, Crow Wing public health officials had not yet established a strong relationship with pharmacies in the area. But Crow Wing found the support of a local pharmacy, GuidePoint, to be especially valuable during the pandemic. The pharmacy participated in many of the pre-planning meetings, volunteered at mass immunization clinics, and provided free vaccines.

In turn, the health department was able to provide significant support to GuidePoint. Communication between the two was vital to the success of the partnership. For example, at the end of October, there was a nationwide shortage of vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that health departments only administer to certain populations, with the criteria often changing. Crow Wing advertised in the newspapers and on the radio in an attempt to inform the community of the restrictions. But many people were still unsure of where they could obtain vaccinations, and whether or not they were even eligible.

GuidePoint Pharmacy staff encountered many children who they were unable to vaccinate due to a law that prevents pharmacies from vaccinating anyone under the age of 10, and the Crow Wing Health Division was able to help. Parents would bring their children to GuidePoint, unaware of the age limit. At one point, a mother brought her two young daughters in for vaccinations, and when she discovered that only she could get vaccinated, she became upset. But GuidePoint was able to contact Crow Wing public health officials, who reached out to other vaccine providers and found a clinic that could legally inoculate the two girls.

The H1N1 emergency encouraged cooperation not only between Crow Wing County health officials and GuidePoint Pharmacy, but also between other healthcare personnel and community leaders in the area. Nurses and medical staff who were initially skeptical that pharmacists could properly administer vaccines grew to approve of their involvement in immunizing. The local newspaper, which in the past had been critical of Crow Wing public health efforts, published an editorial commending the department for its work during the pandemic. Overall, Crow Wing’s Health Division and its community partners administered over 8,000 vaccinations during the course of the pandemic.

Since 2009, Crow Wing and GuidePoint Pharmacy have continued to work together. When the health department had to shut down many of its remote flu immunization clinics, it asked vaccine providers in the community, including GuidePoint Pharmacy, if they could take over vaccinating in those areas. Even though it would not profit from doing so, GuidePoint volunteered to immunize people in these locations and continues to do so today.

If another pandemic were to occur, Crow Wing County would rely on all community medical providers—including pharmacies. Thanks, in part, to the establishment of partnerships in 2009, Crow Wing’s Community Services Health Division remains prepared for whatever challenges the community may face in the future.

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