Community pharmacists key to prevent measles comeback

NCPA May 2, 2019

Dear Colleague,

Doug Hoey

Who doesn't love a great comeback story?

When Tiger Woods won the Masters last month, the crowd went wild, quite a change from 2013 when Forbes named him the third on a list of "Most Disliked Athletes." Twenty years ago, Robert Downey Jr. was in jail and drug rehab. Today, he is the star of "Avengers: Endgame," the top-grossing movie of 2019. Kurt Warner was not drafted by the NFL after college and ended up working at a grocery store for $5.50 an hour. Six years later, he was Super Bowl MVP.

Not all comebacks are so inspiring. Over the past few weeks, we've seen a comeback that no one is cheering about. Measles, which was declared "eliminated" from the United States in 2000, is back, with more than 700 cases reported in 22 states so far in 2019.

Perhaps 700 cases seem small in a country of 328 million people, but when you consider that this year's four-month figure is eight times the number reported in all of 2016, you can see why the CDC is concerned.

There are several reasons why measles outbreaks are all over the news. Measles had all but dropped off the radar over the past decade, and the public didn't think much about the MMR vaccine that prevents the disease. The CDC reports that those born before 1957 likely contracted the virus as children and have natural immunity. But those born between 1957 and 1968 (people who are 51 to 62 years old) may want to consider getting revaccinated because an inactivated vaccine was used that did not provide long-term immunity. Children who received two vaccines in the 1960s are considered immune for life, but faulty memories and a lack of access to 50-year-old medical records make it impossible to be 100 percent sure, and some may decide it's better to be safe than sorry.

There's also a small but vocal anti-vaccination movement out there, and that's another factor in the proliferation of measles cases. Outbreaks have occurred in communities where parents have opted out of vaccinations for their children. Some have religious exceptions; some have bad information from internet conspiracy-theory sites. According to the 2018 NCPA Digest, sponsored by Cardinal Health, 70 percent of community pharmacists do vaccinations. If you're in that 70 percent, use the national conversation around measles to act as a source of truth to patients with questions and to talk about the immunization services you offer. Start these conversations with NCPA's Talk to Your Pharmacist First marketing materials. For those with questions about the measles, the CDC has a wealth of up-to-date information for you to share with patients about measles symptoms and complications, those who are at risk, and much more.

It's hard to believe that it's only been in the last 25 years or so that pharmacists have been allowed to immunize patients. Now many patients couldn't imagine going anywhere but to a pharmacy to get their flu shot, and many states now allow pharmacists to administer additional immunizations. If you're not offering vaccinations as a patient service, consider that you are missing out on a chance to help your patients and expand your business. With measles on the march, this outbreak may offer the perfect opportunity to start a conversation with patients and employers about the services you offer that go beyond dispensing.


Doug Hoey