Rep. Ana Rivas Logan: Floridians deserve improved access to critical vaccines

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The following is a guest op-ed from Rep. Ana Rivas.

Access to health care has dominated the nation’s attention and divided the country, but Florida has an opportunity to pass a commonsense health care bill – the Vaccine Access Act (HB509/SB850). Florida is one of the few states left in the nation that has not provided their citizens the option to receive additional vaccinations, aside from the influenza vaccine, from their pharmacist. This must change for the sake of our seniors.

The Vaccine Access Act has passed the Florida House and is currently working through the Senate. This legislation will allow Florida’s well-trained pharmacists to administer the pneumonia and shingles vaccine to adult Floridians.This legislation puts Florida in step with the 45 other states in the nation that allow pharmacists to administer the pneumonia vaccine and the 46 states which allow pharmacy administration of the shingles vaccine with a prescription.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), shingles is a debilitating illness that can wreak havoc on an infected individual. One out of three seniors will contract this virus, and one out of five will have severe, long-term pain after the rash heals. Even more dangerous, pneumonia can be deadly in those with compromised immune systems. It causes serious infections of the lungs, the bloodstream and the covering of the brain. Pneumococcal disease is also one of the most common causes of vaccine-preventable deaths in the U.S. Since the average Floridian visits a pharmacy at least once a month, it is common sense to allow local pharmacies to deliver these much-needed immunizations and many seniors trust and frequent their local community pharmacist, especially those in rural areas.

The Vaccine Access Act will bring Florida into the new age of immunization rate expansion. And that’s a good place to be. Vaccines are considered to be one of the safest, most efficient and cost-effective preventative measures against certain diseases according to the CDC. Immunizations including those administered by pharmacists assist in preventing an estimated 14 million cases of vaccine-preventable diseases and 33,000 cases of death. In the five years qualified Florida pharmacists have been authorized to administer influenza immunizations, not one adverse incident has been reported as a result of pharmacists immunizing patients. In fact in a 2011 Gallup Poll pharmacists were ranked among the most trusted professionals, ranked second in honesty and ethical standards among top professions.

Pharmacists are well-positioned to increase Florida’s vaccination rates. Some Floridians including those without health insurance or those in rural areas depend solely on their community pharmacist as their health care provider. The frequency of visits to pharmacies, compared to physicians, coupled with the extended availability of pharmacists, increases the likelihood of patients receiving their needed vaccinations while avoiding the complications and expensive hospital visits resulting from these viruses. These factors help community pharmacists eliminate one of the most important barriers to vaccination: accessibility.

Passing the Vaccine Act will truly promote a healthier Florida and improve vaccine access for patients by increasing qualified pharmacists’ ability to expand the reach of the pneumococcal and varicella zoster vaccines in Florida. Visit VaccineAccess.com to learn how you can help save lives and cut health care cost by supporting this important legislation.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.