Health & Science
5:33 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Controverisal amendments injected into vaccine bill

On the second floor of the state Capitol building a sea of white coats swarm the halls. At different places in the lobby are tables offering bone density screenings, dermatological checks, cholesterol tabs—a mini medical center. The displays showcase some of the services that local pharmacies provide. But the agenda isn’t just to offer some free medical checkups—it’s also meant to promote an issue— getting vaccinated against potentially deadly diseases.

 “Many seniors contract shingles and pneumonia and this vaccine will prevent hundreds of thousands of seniors from not only contracting the disease, but from the complications of the disease…”

That’s Republican Representative Ana Rivas Logan from Miami. She’s sponsoring a bill allowing local pharmacies to give shingles and pneumonia vaccines to seniors. Pharmacies across the state can already do the flu vaccine, and Logan says the bill is important because it will improve the health outcomes for seniors and make vaccinations more affordable.

 “Going to a doctor’s office to receive the vaccination requires a co-payment to the physician and then the vaccine payment. This will allow the senior to just have the vaccine. And, it’s more accessible. People are more likely to go to the pharmacist than they are to their doctor to receive such a critical vaccine.”

 Sally West director of government affairs for the Florida Retail Federation, says the bill makes good consumer sense.

“It’s a question of access. 90-percent of Floridians live less than five miles from a pharmacy. That’s not true for doctors. Pharmacies serve the underserved, minority and rural communities.”

Five years ago the state started letting pharmacies administer the flu vaccine. Since then, total statewide flu vaccinations have gone up. Advocates of letting pharmacies do the same thing with pneumonia and shingles vaccines point to that as evidence that more people take advantage of immunizations when it’s more convenient for them to do so.

But turf-battle over who can administer vaccines has long been fought between pharmacists and doctors, who have historically been the gatekeepers of immunizations. That battle can be seen in the Senate-version of the bill.

" I’m one that I don’t like passing bad bills out of committee. This was a good bill. With the amendment that was put on I don’t see how it makes it better and I’d urge you to vote against it, keep it in committee or kill it.”

Senator Dennis Jones was displeased by amendments brought by Senate President-Designate Don Gaetz requiring doctors to write prescriptions for the vaccines before patients can get them at their local pharmacy.  Jones says that defeats the purpose of the bill.

“This prescription is not necessary. It is going to cost money. People are going to have to be inconvenienced by making an appointment, paying a co-pay and getting another piece of paper to take to the pharmacy, where right now they can walk into their local pharmacy to obtain these services.”

And Florida Pharmacy Association President Michael Jackson is opposed to another provision in the bill that changes which medical group can oversee the training that pharmacists have to get in order to administer the vaccines.

 “You’ve taken the control out of it from your department, and you’ve transferred it to a national organization who, when you look at their website on what this type is, it’s only applicable to physicians, it doesn’t even allow that kind of training to other types of healthcare providers. So you might want to take a look at that.”

But Gaetz held firm with his amendments.

“By adopting these two amendments I think we’ll have the votes to pass the bill. Failing that, I think the bill could be in trouble as it goes forward.”

Senate Bill Sponsor Steve Oelrich agreed to allow the bill to move forward, despite his opposition to the amendments. The proposal cleared the Senate Health Regulation Committee on a 6-1 vote. It passed 10-to-5 in the House Committee. Lobbyists for the pharmacies and physician groups say they’ll try to work out their differences as the proposals move through the two chambers.