Pharmacists ready to offer MMR vaccine

Some area pharmacists say they’ve received doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and are ready to provide them, following a change in state law.

A resurgence of the measles in Ohio in recent months has marked the largest outbreak of measles in the country since 1994. Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order to allow pharmacists to temporarily administer the MMR vaccine, and pharmacists in the area say they think that may help. The 90-day mandate took effect June 9.

Paul Warren, pharmacist for B&W Pharmacy in Beverly, said he doesn’t think the pharmacy has administered any MMR vaccines yet, but having that option across the state could help slow down the spread of the virus.

“It’s a lot better access,” he said. “You don’t have to make an office appointment for a doctor…It’s just another option for people.”

Fifty new cases of the measles have been reported in Ohio in the last two weeks. Nine counties are now part of the measles outbreak affecting 356 Ohioans, up from 341 a week ago: Ashland, Coshocton, Crawford, Highland, Holmes, Knox, Richland, Stark and Wayne.

The mumps have also made a recurrence, with 17 counties reporting a total of 432 cases since the outbreak began early this year at The Ohio State University: Athens, Belmont, Clark, Cuyahoga, Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Hamilton, Licking, Madison, Morrow, Muskingum, Pickaway, Ross, Tuscarawas, Union and Warren. Only 12 new cases of the mumps have been reported in recent weeks.

Symptoms of the measles include fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. It is a respiratory disease that most often grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs. If a child has measles, about one out of 10 will also get an ear infection, while one out of 20 will contract pneumonia. About one to two of 1,000 will die. Measles can also cause a miscarriage or premature birth for pregnant women.

Measles spreads through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing. The cost of the vaccine is about $100 locally for someone without insurance.

Melissa Lane, 48, of Marietta, said she thinks pharmacists being able to give the vaccine is a good idea.

“Getting into a doctor appointment is very difficult anymore,” she said. “So if you can get into the pharmacy to get it taken care of, (pharmacists) know what they’re doing.”

All pharmacists undergo training before giving shots, said Jesse Wimberly, spokesman for the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy.

“They have a comprehensive course all pharmacists are required to take…prior to administering any immunization,” he said.

There are many things that pharmacists are already allowed to administer to the public, Wimberly said. Those include vaccines for: pneumonia, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, meningitis, diphtheria, influenza and pertussis.

Most pharmacies around the state are allowing walk-ins for the vaccine, said Wimberly.

“(We need) parental approval for anyone under the age of 18,” he said.

He said vaccinations will be given to children at ages 12 to 15 months at two doses, and again at 4 to 6 years, also two doses, for a total of four doses.

“(Someone) 18 or older, or born after 1956 should get at least one dose if they’ve never received an MMR shot,” Wimberly said. “We don’t recommend getting vaccinated if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant within the next four weeks; the shot can be harmful to the baby.”

Wimberly said Kasich’s mandate, which allows pharmacists to administer the MMR vaccine for 90 days, is a big win for pharmacists across the state.

“There are no cons; this is positive,” Wimberly said. “The Ohio State Board of Pharmacy acknowledges that pharmacists can play an important role in responding to these outbreaks by advocating and administering vaccines…Pharmacies are easily accessible by customers.”

Wimberly also acknowledged that patients can get vaccines for MMR without delay.

“You don’t have to have a physician’s approval first,” he said.

Ryan Summers, pharmacist for Marietta’s Walgreens, 300 Greene St., said there are about 10 MMR vaccines in stock at the store.

“We have the vaccine and are ready to do it,” he said, adding that the supply can be readily replenished should the need arise.

Marietta resident Courtney Strode, 21, said access to the vaccine is much simpler, and that’s the appeal.

“I work full time, 80-plus hours every two weeks,” Strode said. “It makes it easier on people.”

Court Witschey, administrator at the Washington County Health Department, said allowing pharmacists to handle the MMR vaccine is a good idea.

“In a time of emergency or disease outbreak, it’s been (beneficial) to have more folks able to administer vaccinations,” he said. “It’s definitely a help to the community in those situations…We’re just trying to stay ahead of the (disease) and prevention is the best medicine.”

Wimberly said if all goes smoothly, the board will push for an extension of services past the 90-day marker.

“If it proves to be effective, there will be a push for the board to approve this as a permanent tool (for pharmacists to administer),” said Wimberly.

The MMR vaccine is between 88 and 90 percent effective against mumps and 97 to 99 percent effective against measles when an individual has been fully vaccinated.

Summers said having the MMR vaccine in pharmacists’ hands open doors for patients.

“It gives patients access to a service they wouldn’t necessarily have,” said Summers. “Walgreens is open on weekends and many doctor’s offices are closed. It’s hard to take the morning off and get to a doctor…It expands the pharmacist’s role…We’re out there helping people, counseling and giving shots to improve their wellness.”