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Alicia Dawson, RPH

Op-ed Submission: HB 274 Prioritizes Care of Kentucky Children and Promotes Overall Public Wellbeing

Op-ed Submitted By Alicia Dawson, RPH

At a time when childhood vaccination rates are historically low, it’s important to ensure that all parents have access and choice to health care providers that can administer lifesaving immunizations in their communities.

With a local, trusted pharmacy in nearly every Kentucky community, it only makes sense to have pharmacists step up and fill in care gaps when it comes to important childhood vaccinations.

Fortunately, House Bill 274, legislation that allows Kentucky pharmacists to continue administering vaccines to children 5 and older with the consent of their parent or guardian, passed the General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Beshear.

We applaud Sen. Steve Meredith, Rep. Danny Bentley and the members of the Kentucky General Assembly for bringing this bill to passage and Governor Beshear for quickly signing it into law. Although, some comments were made during the legislative process that demand clarification about the true intent and importance of HB 274.

This legislation is not a vaccine mandate, nor does it eliminate parents’ option for a pediatrician to administer their children’s routine vaccines. This legislation simply increases access to care for Kentuckians who may lack primary care and pediatric providers in their community. As of June 2023, 51 out of 120 counties in Kentucky lacked pediatricians. However, 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy.

The lack of care coupled with the number of Kentucky children who are dangerously behind on their routine childhood vaccinations would have created a serious public health crisis if the General Assembly and Governor didn’t act in support of HB 274. Kentucky ranked 36th in kindergarten MMR vaccinations for the 2022-2023 school year, and our children are receiving vaccines at a rate low enough to threaten herd immunity.

HB 274 opens doors for families to protect both their children and the public against diseases that have long-been prevented by vaccines. Increased availability means higher rates of routine vaccinations and an overall improvement to public health.

Pharmacists have played a key role in delivering vaccines for many years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists were vital to ensuring our neighbors were able to quickly receive their shots to stay healthy. It’s a misplaced concern to say that a pharmacist is not knowledgeable about vaccines or lacks the same patient medical history as the primary care doctor.

As pharmacists, we are experts in drug therapy and immunizations and are more than qualified to answer questions about vaccinations and to administer them. When it comes to patient health history, it’s important to note that the option to get vaccinated at a local pharmacy is not a replacement for doctor’s visits and regular check-ups, but when primary care is hard to come by, pharmacists can step in to offer supplemental medical advice and help connect patients with local providers.

While not a perfect solution for those who lack access to primary medical care, it’s a step in the right direction. HB 274 gives Kentuckians the best chance at staying healthy against vaccine-preventable diseases.

HB 274 is about giving Kentucky parents the choices they need. No one should have to forego life-saving vaccinations due to where they live. If parents struggle to get their children to a doctor, they should have the right to access care via a pharmacist.

On behalf of pharmacists across the Commonwealth, we thank Governor Beshear and the Kentucky General Assembly for helping families access critical vaccines close to home for the years to come.

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Alicia Dawson, RPH, along with her husband, owns and operates McDowell Professional Pharmacy in Floyd County, Kentucky. She has been a practicing pharmacist since 1992.