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Dose of confusion
Review of state law complicates flu shot process
WEB flu shot 1 jd
Kroger pharmacist Lori Cowart, left, gives Maggie Parker a flu shot during a recent visit as her husband, Jack Parker, looks on. Thanks to a recent review of state law, many pharmacies no longer offer the shot without a prescription. - photo by Jim Dean

Just two of about 40 people who lined up on a recent morning to receive a flu shot at the Forsyth County Senior Center were successful.

A combination of confusion, lack of information and inconsistency was to blame for a scene that has become increasingly common across the state this fall.

The reason: Many pharmacies no longer offer the shot without a prescription. It's a new approach to an old law that many may not have been aware of.

The law, which says the vaccination is considered a prescription drug, resurfaced as the result of a recent Composite State Board of Medical Examiners investigation of improper administering of flu shots.

"The law hasn't changed," said Dr. Jim McNatt, spokesman for the board. "People simply, I think, have been unaware of it. I think it started people becoming aware of what the actual law stated."

The impact is perhaps being felt most at pharmacy-sponsored flu vaccination drives.

As she has for more than three years, Lori McCall Cowart, a Kroger-certified geriatrics pharmacist, visited the local senior center on a recent morning to administer the shots.

None of the seniors there knew they needed a prescription. That didn't deter Cowart from calling their physicians to try and get a one over the phone, though only two gave the OK.

"I'm just concerned that because some physicians are not willing to work with the pharmacy, people may not get one," Cowart said.

"We hope people will go to their physicians and either get prescriptions or flu vaccines. Kroger wants to abide by the law and we will not, we cannot, give one without a prescription.

"We just want to make sure everyone gets a flu shot, that's what is most important."

Last month, Gov. Sonny Perdue released a statement saying the administration supports safe administration of the vaccination.

"We believe it is imperative that pharmacists and others act as they have in the past," he said in the statement. "No statute or regulation has passed or was promulgated in the past 12 months that would change the ability of pharmacists to administer flu shots.

"This administration will not call for sanctions against those acting in the best interest of Georgians and in a manner consistent with past practices."

The statement may have comforted some pharmacies, but it didn't change the law requiring a prescription.

Bert Brantley, Perdue's press secretary, said what it would most likely do is remove any doubt the legislature will have to address the issue.

"This is a substantial need to have Georgians, particularly those in the most affected groups, get the shot and make sure that there are no obstacles," he said.

District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, who serves as chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said it could come up during the next legislative session.

There are several pharmacists in the General Assembly, said Murphy, adding one of them would probably write a bill.

"I think pharmacists are qualified to give a flu shot," he said. "I think we should make it available where we can. And if we've got to look at this and change a law, which evidently we do, I'm sure we will take it up next session."

For now, anyone wanting a flu shot should call their local pharmacy in advance to make sure they offer the vaccination without a prescription.

If not, shot-seekers need to schedule a doctor's visit, which can result in added expense, or have their physician send a prescription to a pharmacy.

Dr. Sohel Momin of North Atlanta Family Practice said more patients have been asking for prescriptions so they can get the vaccination at their pharmacies.

"I think it is going to drive more patients into their physician's office," he said. "I think it will probably hamper how many patients do get the flu shot in Georgia, because some people don't want to sit two hours to see a doctor to get a prescription to get the flu shot, or sit two hours to get a flu shot.

"In the past, many pharmacists and pharmacies were giving the flu shot and as long as they're doing it in a safe environment ... I think it's a good idea to keep on doing it that way."