Owner, Pharmasave Loyalist Pharmacy & Chair, Ontario Pharmacists Association
The Ontario Pharmacists Association estimates that pharmacies have the capacity to vaccinate almost one million people a week.
Cora, six years old, squints in concentration before boldly pointing to her selection. She’s so excited by her decision — the princess bandage for herself and her father — that she hardly notices when pharmacist Jen Baker injects the influenza vaccine into her arm. For Baker, this endearing exchange is a small testimony of how far the profession of pharmacy has come in recent years — and how far it can still go to improve Canadians’ access to health care.
“This flu season was the most impactful because of COVID-19. People were so appreciative that they could get their flu shot quickly and safely,” says Baker, owner of Pharmasave Loyalist Pharmacy in Amherstview, ON.
Baker is also the chair of the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA), which recently launched the Ready for What’s Next campaign to raise awareness of the expanding role of pharmacists. For the past decade, provincial governments have put new laws in place to enable pharmacists to do more in medication management and direct patient care. The pandemic has both proven the value of what has been done so far and highlighted the need to do more.
Delivering immunization and providing care for minor ailments
Most recently, Ontario added pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to the list of health care providers who can administer COVID-19 vaccines. OPA estimates that pharmacies have the capacity to vaccinate almost one million people a week.
The past few years have also seen pharmacists get the authority to administer other vaccines — but not all of them. “We’re advocating for a comprehensive strategy for all routine and targeted vaccinations. That means you could get your flu shot and if you needed your tetanus booster shot you could get that, too,” says Baker.
The ability for pharmacists to assess and prescribe for minor ailments — such as eczema, a cold sore, or a bladder infection — is another priority. Only Ontario and B.C. haven’t put this authority in place for pharmacists. The good news for Ontario is that the regulations have been drafted — however, almost a year has passed.
“We know that COVID-19 is the biggest priority for government, but we don’t want these regulations to sit on the shelf. When pharmacists can assess and prescribe for minor ailments, that will be a huge convenience for patients and will take some of the pressure off physicians and the health care system,” says Baker.
An industry that’s backed by research
Many of pharmacy’s strides can be traced back to research that proves the value of a greater role for pharmacists. The Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy has raised millions of dollars for pharmacy research since its establishment in 1945. It has helped make the case for pharmacist immunizations and prescribing for minor ailments, and current projects explore the pharmacist’s role in mental health, medical cannabis, and virtual care.
“The Foundation has been invaluable in looking at how pharmacy can innovate. It generates the evidence that shows that these models of practice work and can really help patients,” says Baker.