The Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada says a worrying number of Ontarians are missing routine vaccinations — and they're pitching a solution.
The association is asking that pharmacists be allowed to administer the kinds of free public health immunizations that are usually given only at schools or in doctors' offices or clinics.
"We know that 95 per cent of Canadians live within five kilometres of a community pharmacy, so we can really leverage that convenience and proximity… to get more Canadians the vaccines they need," said association CEO Sandra Hanna in an interview with CBC News.
Hanna says her association partnered with 19 to Zero, a nonprofit that aims to reduce vaccine hesitancy, to conduct research about missed routine immunizations during the pandemic.
It found that one in four adults has missed, or is unsure if they've missed, a routine vaccination for themselves or their child.
"Some of the main ones we've been focusing on are HPV, pneumonia, measles, mumps and rubella... shingles is a really big one as well. Those are the key ones we've found are really being missed," said Hanna.
"Those are ones we have in the pharmacy, we should be able to administer them in an easy and convenient way to all Canadians."
Vaccines already at pharmacies — for a price
Currently, pharmacies in Ontario can administer just two vaccines in partnership with public health programs: COVID-19 and flu shots.
In 2016, the Pharmacy Act was updated to allow pharmacists to administer vaccinations for 13 other diseases, including HPV and Hepatitis A and B — but, Hanna says, there's a catch.
"If you were to come into the pharmacy for one of those public health vaccines, you actually wouldn't be able to get it funded," she explained. "You'd have to pay for it out-of-pocket."
What the association is asking for, she says, is participation in the public health programs to allow them to vaccinate against those same 13 diseases, but without patients having to pay.
Record-keeping needs to be expanded
In order to get there, there are some logistical hurdles to jump, says Kelly Grindrod, a practising pharmacist and associate professor of pharmacy at the University of Waterloo.
Pharmacies and public health programs would need to coordinate distribution and record-keeping, she said.
Though creating a province-wide system is a "huge undertaking," recent success with systems for tracking COVID-19 vaccinations proves its possible, says Grindrod.
"I think we might see implementation of a single vaccination record-keeping system across the province coming out of the pandemic, at least I hope we would," she said.
The CBC contacted the provincial government to ask if they were considering extending public health vaccination programs to pharmacies, but did not hear back.