Today, it’s common for people to get their flu shots at a drug store pharmacy. That wasn’t always the case because until recently, only doctors and nurses could legally give the shots. That’s changed over time as states have adjusted their laws.
According to a study, as state laws have changed to allow flu shots to be given in a retail pharmacy setting, the number of people getting flu shots in pharmacies has increased dramatically. In 2007, around three million flu shots were given at pharmacies. Six years later, and that number increased by more than 17 million.
However, the data doesn’t show much of a change in the overall rate of adults getting their shots.
“So that makes you think, probably what happened is that the same people who wanted to get their flu shots before still got them, but now they get them in a pharmacy setting,” says Coady Wing, coauthor on the study and assistant professor at IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “It is possible there was some reshuffling and you got some new people. But the same total number, that seems less likely to me.”
That probably means fewer people are getting shots from their usual physician. Wing calls the result of pharmacy-based flu shots a success for the patients because it is a more convenient option for most people. But why isn’t the overall number of people getting their flu shots going up?
“It might also tell you that the complexity of the formal health care system is maybe not the main barrier to getting flu shots, because even when you reduce the barriers by allowing it in retail settings it doesn’t increase the rates very much,” Wing says.
Wing says one concern prior to the study was that people wouldn’t get preventive services like blood screenings if they were getting a flu shot at the pharmacy instead of at their doctor’s office. But the study didn’t find evidence that people reduced their use of other preventive services.
“So that’s good too, right?” Wing says. “It looks like you got a more convenient flu shot, but you didn’t skimp on screening tests and other preventive health care.”