August 25, 2020
Inside: How to keep patients safe from coronavirus while administering flu shots.
With COVID-19 still rampant, pharmacies are preparing for a flu season like no other.
People wearing masks and practicing social distancing because of coronavirus might actually reduce the severity of flu season this year, but getting as many of your patients vaccinated should still be a priority this fall.
With low vaccination rates, patients who contract the flu may mistake their symptoms for COVID-19 and flood already overburdened testing sites, so flu shots are more crucial than ever.
Unlike in previous years, you won’t have to badger your patients to convince them they need a flu shot. Because of COVID-19, flu shots are expected to be a hot ticket. A Reuters/Ipsos poll from May 2020 found that 60 percent of adults planned to get a flu shot this year. In past years, fewer than 50 percent of adults received a flu shot. In addition, HHS has authorized pharmacists to vaccinate children aged 3 – 18, which means more people may be lining up at pharmacies who typically are restricted from administering vaccines to children.
Pharmacists have reported that because of the uncertainty and vulnerability patients feel around coronavirus, they are eager to do anything they can to protect themselves from other illnesses, which includes the flu shot.
However, increased crowds in your pharmacy aren’t ideal when you’re trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus, so you’ll need to introduce some new safety measures into your flu shot procedures this year.
Here are some methods you can use to keep your patients and staff members while keeping up with the high demand for flu shots.
When dispensing medications, the counter puts social distance between you and your patients, and most transactions can be done through a plexiglass shield. With flu shots, however, you have to get up close and personal.
To help maintain physical distance, you can perform flu shots as a drive-thru service. Patients can stay put in their cars. roll their windows down, and stick their arm out. Pharmacists can then administer the injection from outside the car.
Moving to a drive-up method can also help keep your pharmacy from filling up with people waiting for their flu shot while others are trying to shop.
With flu shots in such high demand, you can keep the crowds at bay by moving to an appointment-only model. Make it easy for your patients to reserve an appointment via your website or a phone call, and if people walk in asking for a flu shot, help them make an appointment.
This way, you don’t have waves of people coming in during peak hours. You can also collect all necessary personal information from patients while they’re making the appointment to minimize the time they have to spend inside the pharmacy.
Having many patients inside your store eager for products and services would be a great thing under normal circumstances. But during the pandemic, the fewer people you have in your store, the safer it is.
Remind your patients about all of the no-contact options you have for picking up prescriptions and other merchandise to keep the store from getting crowded so you can focus on the patients who need in-person clinical services like flu shots.
Encourage everyone to use your delivery service, drive-thru window, curbside pickup, or e-commerce options whenever possible.
Many Americans typically receive their flu shots through a work-sponsored event, but with office workers still largely working remotely, that may not happen this year.
To reach the patients that will be missing out on their workplace flu shot this year, get out into the community and find them. Set up tents outside of your local community center and administer the flu shot to walk-up patients. This can also be a great way to market your pharmacy to people who may not have heard of it before.
Outdoor walk-up operations also allow for easier social distancing than inside your small pharmacy.
Since you and your staff have to come into close contact with patients in order to administer immunizations, you should be extra vigilant about screening for COVID-19 symptoms before you proceed.
Ask the patient if they have experienced any relevant symptoms and take their temperature with an infrared thermometer before you administer a flu shot.
You should also take your PPE game to the next level. If it isn’t already required for patients to wear a mask in your pharmacy, you need to make it mandatory for them to wear one while receiving a flu shot.
Staff members who are administering flu shots should receive a refresher course on proper procedures for wearing PPE. Consider adding a face shield or goggles to your PPE protocol in addition to face masks and gloves.
Normally, flu shot season doesn’t kick into high gear until mid-September to October, but some pharmacists have reported that patients starting asking about flu shots as early as May and June.
Walgreens began their flu shot season earlier than usual, in mid-August. Start early and continue offering them longer than you normally would. Healthy people can go ahead and get their shot early, but you should recommend that elderly and immunocompromised people wait until the fall to make sure the shot remains effective throughout the entire flu season.
You can meet the unusually high demand and vaccinate as many people as possible by expanding your season.
Even though 60 percent of people say they plan to get a flu shot this year, that means 40 percent of people aren’t planning on getting one, so you still need to market your service to reach as many people as possible in this crucial vaccination year.
Get creative to promote your flu shots by:
If you’re conducting vaccinations differently this year to help maintain safety, effective marketing will educate your patients about what to expect and help to reassure them that they can get a flu shot with low risk of contracting COVID-19.
PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is a member-owned organization that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.
An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited (formerly VAWD) warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.