SPHS 6 3 16 Merck NewsStory

Professors Work to Improve Community Pharmacy Immunization Programs

KGI School of Pharmacy professors Sally Huston and David Ha are part of a team that has received a research grant from the Merck Investigator Studies Program for their work in sustainable enhancements for community pharmacy immunization programs. The larger team includes Salisa Westrick and Kimberly Garza, both at Auburn University in Alabama.

Through this funding, Huston and Ha will investigate methods of enhancing the delivery of the pneumococcal disease and herpes zoster (shingles) vaccines in community pharmacies through immunization-focused education and expert feedback, using a randomized intervention-control design.

The research team hopes to find pharmacists and technicians from 64 community pharmacies (32 in California and 32 in Alabama) who are willing to participate in the study. Once enrolled, each participant will receive intervention training via a free, two-hour online course, along with access to monthly expert advice. Overall, the purpose of training is to ensure each participating community pharmacy has the practical tools needed to identify patients who could benefit from the pneumococcal or shingles vaccines and to provide useful and meaningful information to them.

Associate Professor of Administrative Sciences, Huston explained the importance of the study: “Many people still fail to take advantage of immunizations against pneumococcal disease and herpes zoster [shingles]. Pneumococcal disease can result in significant morbidity and, potentially, early death. Adults aged 60 years and older who have had chicken pox are at high risk of developing shingles-a painful disease that can last a year or longer. Pharmacists are among the most widely accessible healthcare providers. With pharmacists now eligible to administer immunizations, they can help people overcome many of the barriers they face in obtaining this vital protection.”

While the study targets community pharmacy interactions with patients, it is designed to be larger in scope. The team hopes not only to increase the current level of pharmacy-based immunization delivery, but also to foster practice change to sustain the intervention effect.

Discussing the project, Assistant Professor of Clinical Sciences Ha said: “As a practicing clinical faculty in infectious disease, my experience with vaccination is the result of lack of vaccination. One of the most frustrating things to witness is patients being hospitalized and sometimes succumbing to vaccine-preventable illnesses, and this is not an uncommon event. This is why I am interested in increasing vaccination rates as much as possible, especially in an area of significant healthcare need, i.e., the Inland Empire [San Bernardino/Riverside counties] as well as Los Angeles County.”

Ha said he believed this project to be completely in line with the mission of KGI, which is to enrich society with breakthrough approaches to education and translational research in the life sciences. “We hope that our research will provide an effective and reproducible intervention that will increase vaccination rates in an area of great need through the education and empowerment of community pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.”

Sally Huston, PhD, is the California sub-contract principle investigator and project coordinator. Dr. David Ha is the clinical coordinator for California. The overall principle investigator is Salisa Westrick, PhD, and the Alabama coordinator is Dr. Kimberly Garza.

Read more about this study.