It’s been a busy influenza immunization season.
As of January 2, 2021, nearly 1.5 million doses of influenza vaccine have been administered in Alberta, with most of those vaccines administered by pharmacists.
Across Alberta, pharmacies developed different strategies to handle the increased demand for flu shots, while still maintaining a consistent level of service for other patients and adhering to provincial COVID-19 guidelines.
At Edmonton’s Crestwood Apothecary, the pharmacy staff met to discuss the best approach for handling flu season.
“Our main concern was that we’re such a small pharmacy,” said pharmacist Ashley Badach. “We don’t have a lot of room for people to wait in the front area and maintain physical distancing. Originally, we were going to go strictly with appointments because we had done that before. The concern with appointments was that lots of people show up early or late, which could lead to more grouping in our front area.”
One of the pharmacy technicians on the team suggested incorporating a beeper system like those used in popular restaurants. The team searched online and found a beeper system that included 12 beepers that they were able to sanitize between uses (cost was approximately $150). As patients arrived at the pharmacy, they were directed to the flu shot check-in area, where a pharmacy technician conducted COVID-19 screening, helped the patient fill out the necessary forms, and provided a beeper to the patient, who could then wait outside until they were summoned.
“We could tell people it was a 20- or 40-minute wait and they could choose to take the pager and wait in their car or come back another time,” said Ashley. “We had a lot of feedback from patients that it was awesome. A lot of people are uncomfortable waiting in the pharmacy for a long time, especially during the pandemic. They are familiar with the restaurant pagers—they know how they work. It saved the patients time. They could run other errands while they were waiting. It was more efficient for everyone.”
Ashley says the pager system helped build the pharmacy team’s confidence that they can handle huge demand for immunizations. They will continue to use the system for future flu shot seasons and if community pharmacy is involved in administering COVID-19 vaccinations.
Other influenza immunization season success stories include
- Using a central scheduling mechanism (digital or paper-based) to coordinate immunization appointments. This was helpful for pharmacy teams in allocating resources appropriately while also ensuring continuity could be maintained between pharmacists (and other team members).
- Scheduling appointments also ensured that pharmacists could control traffic in the pharmacy and adhere to public health directives (e.g., distancing, cleaning, etc.)
- Scheduling appointments for seniors during the morning prior to the pharmacy’s normal operating hours.
- Completing screening activities–where appropriate–remotely. For instance, many pharmacists contacted patients by phone shortly before their immunization appointment to explain the vaccination process and complete documentation activities. This ensured that pharmacists could minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by screening patients prior to entry at the pharmacy, while also minimizing the contact time for patients after they’ve entered.
- Where applicable, alternating immunizations between two private spaces within the pharmacy to minimize contact, support effective cleaning practices, and maintain scheduling efficiencies.
- Offering appointments for vaccine administration for specific portions of the workday, and drop-in immunizations for the remainder of the day. Some pharmacies alternated days where scheduled appointments were offered, followed by days where no appointment was necessary.
- Asking patients to wait in vehicles and call the pharmacy upon arrival (for appointments or drop-ins). A pharmacy team member would then advise the patient via phone call or text to enter at an appropriate time.
For more on influenza vaccination, visit ACP’s Seasonal influenza information webpage.