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State allows pharmacies to offer more vaccines

Get ready to see more advertisements in Massachusetts pharmacies for a wide variety of vaccines that consumers will now be able to receive in the stores.

A new policy adopted by state health regulators grants pharmacists the authority to administer 10 adult vaccines in addition to the annual flu shot they already can give. The new vaccines being offered are for measles, mumps, and rubella; tetanus, diptheria, and whooping cough; shingles; pneumonia; hepatitis A; hepatitis B; polio; HPV; chickenpox; and meningitis.

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Massachusetts has often led the nation in childhood vaccination rates, but the numbers for adults have lagged, prompting the state Department of Public Health to issue the new policy. But it has prompted concern from the state medical society, which worries that a centralized system to track immunizations is far behind schedule and in that void, physicians will have a hard time monitoring their patients’ far-flung vaccination information.

The policy is intended to provide a more convenient and cost-effective way for consumers to get shots, said Kevin Cranston, director of the state health department’s Bureau of Infectious Disease.

“This doesn’t require an office visit to a primary care provider, and it lowers the work burden on physicians,’’ Cranston said.

When the H1N1 virus - known as swine flu - pummeled Massachusetts and the nation in 2009, state public health officials gave pharmacists the right to give flu shots. Those rules also said that pharmacists would be allowed to administer certain other immunizations, but the health department never got around to designating those vaccines, until now.

The rules, finalized last month, require that pharmacists have appropriate training that meets state standards for administering vaccines. As with flu vaccines, consumers will not need a prescription to get a shot.

The rules require that pharmacists have appropriate training.

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All other states allow pharmacists to administer vaccines beyond the flu shot, but a number of them still require prescriptions for these other vaccines, according to a spokesman for CVS, a national drugstore chain.

Mike DeAngelis said that beginning in June, the company plans to offer most of the vaccines as a walk-in service at its Massachusetts stores, except for the ones that protect against chickenpox and shingles because special storage requirements mean there is limited availability.

David Johnson, executive vice president of the Massachusetts Pharmacists Association, said the new state policy especially helps consumers who face transportation and time constraints. He said many drugstores have ramped up services and vaccines.

Among them is Walgreens, which issued a recent press release saying the chain has “significantly expanded vaccine availability’’ at all of its 165 locations across the state and now is offering immunizations daily, with more than 26,000 immunization-trained pharmacists.

But the Massachusetts Medical Society said the new policy will make it harder for physicians to track whether patients have received their necessary shots and are up to date with vaccination schedules.

“We are concerned with the sporadic care that may occur [with this new policy] that may not be reported back to our offices,’’ said society president Dr. Lynda Young.

A 2010 Massachusetts law established a state vaccine registry to be run by the Department of Public Health and required all licensed health care providers who administer immunizations to report patient information to it.

But the legislation contained no money to operate the system. Using federal funds, the health department developed and launched a pilot registry at a few sites, and officials said last fall that a statewide rollout was anticipated in 2012.

That timeframe was dependent on legislation that would assess a fee on health insurance plans to raise the estimated $1 million to $2 million a year needed to run a registry.

That proposal has languished in the legislature for more than two years, but on Wednesday state Senate leaders released a budget plan for the next fiscal year that includes the measure, a step that boosts its chances for approval by July.

“Our hope is that the bill will go through this session,’’ said Dr. Sean Palfrey, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University School of Medicine and an ardent registry supporter.

Palfrey has been lobbying for a centralized state system since the early 1990s. Massachusetts is just one of two states - the other, New Hampshire - that does not have a statewide registry, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state health department says the nascent registry is expected to start taking data from pharmacists on adult immunizations in a phased approach, beginning in early 2013 - if the funding comes through. It is probably going to take the remainder of 2013, the department said, to get all pharmacists participating in the registry.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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