Vaccinations: A Shot in the Arm for Community Pharmacies

Vaccine Bottles

In another sign that the role of pharmacies is changing, a CDC report indicates that in 2010–11, almost 20% of adult flu vaccines were administered at pharmacies. This is up from 5% in 1998–99 and 7% in 2006–07. This significant increase is attributable to:

  • Changes in state laws that permit pharmacists to administer vaccines. As of 2009, all 50 states allow this.
  • More pharmacies offering vaccines, particularly the major chains.
  • Greater consumer acceptance of receiving vaccinations outside of a physician’s office, particularly at a pharmacy.

More Vaccinations Needed

Because the immunization rate for American adults is dismal, offering vaccinations is an important public health service. Data from a February 2010 report, Adult Immunization: Shots to Save Lives, by the Trust for America’s Health indicates that:

  • Between 40,000 and 50,000 adults die each year from vaccine-preventable illnesses
  • Fewer than 33% of U.S. adults get an annual flu shot
  • Fewer than 2% of adults are vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough

“Thousands of lives could be saved each year if we could increase the number of adults who receive routine and recommended vaccinations.” – Jeffrey Levi, Executive Director, Trust for America’s Health

Why Community Pharmacies Should Offer Vaccines

For community pharmacies not yet providing immunizations, this area deserves consideration. For pharmacies already offering vaccinations, there may be opportunities to enhance the services being offered. Some important considerations:

  • The competitive reality. The major pharmacy chains, as well as many grocery chains with pharmacies, are actively marketing flu shots, and in some cases, other types of vaccines. Failing to offer immunization services puts community pharmacies at a disadvantage.
  • The opportunity. Just keeping up with chains is probably not a good enough reason to offer immunizations. Here’s a better reason: they can be a profit center for community pharmacies. A flu shot service can attract new customers and it gives current customers another reason to stop in. Immunizations provide a supplemental revenue stream that pharmacies can earn a decent margin on. And, the vaccination opportunity is greater than just flu shots. Depending on the laws in a state, pharmacies may be able to administer other types of vaccines, such as for shingles and travel. In the future, there may be more vaccines that can be administered by pharmacists and the patient age range for vaccines administered by pharmacists may expand.
  • The long-term strategy. Perhaps most important, immunization services help elevate the role and perception of pharmacies as valuable and accessible community healthcare resources. In this role, pharmacists are involved in administering vaccines, and in monitoring and educating patients.

How to Get Started

Pharmacy owners contemplating offering immunization services should consider the following:

  1. Enroll as a Medicare provider. This is necessary so your pharmacy can bill Medicare for immunization services covered by Part B (including flu shots
  2. Get certified. Creating an immunization program starts with getting pharmacists and/or staff members certified. Several certification sources exist. Click here for more information.
  3. Allocate space. Pharmacy owners need to understand the physical space requirements for administering vaccines (including privacy and refrigeration) and assess their current space to determine if changes are needed.
  4. Decide which vaccines. The rules governing which vaccines pharmacists can administer and any requirements related to administering them are set at the state level. Community pharmacy owners should contact their state board of pharmacy to understand their opportunities and limits. (A community pharmacy may want to start by administering just flu shots, and over time broaden the types of vaccines offered.)
  5. Develop marketing plans. This involves deciding which vaccines to administer to which target audience(s), what the key marketing messages are, and how to communicate these messages. Examples of effective ways to let customers know about your pharmacy’s immunization services are in-store signage, mailers, and circular promotions. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good vaccination marketing plan.

Tools available to assist pharmacy owners in launching a successful immunization program are available at

Challenges associated with offering immunization services include:

  • Staying abreast of product updates and vaccine recommendations
  • Developing an effective marketing plan
  • Maneuvering the claims and reimbursement landscape

McKesson can help your pharmacy’s immunization practice grow with solutions for all aspects of the process, including set up, ordering, marketing, and reimbursement. Contact with any questions.

Additional Resources

Several excellent resources provide more information about vaccinations. A few are: