From left to right, Jennifer Lopez, H-E-B pharmacy recruiter, Patsy Cavazos, director for the Gulf Coast and southwest region, Kelsi Gulick, third-year professional student pharmacist, and Robert Suarez, H-E-B pharmacy recruiter, present Gulick with the Intern of the Year for the Gulf Coast and Southwest region award.

From left to right, Jennifer Lopez, H-E-B pharmacy recruiter, Patsy Cavazos, director for the Gulf Coast and southwest region, Kelsi Gulick, third-year professional student pharmacist, and Robert Suarez, H-E-B pharmacy recruiter, present Gulick with the Intern of the Year for the Gulf Coast and Southwest region award.

Immunizations can protect you against many diseases yet some children, adolescents and adults do not receive them.

This year the American Academy of Pediatrics published new immunization guidelines for children and adolescents. Giving babies the recommended immunizations by age 2 is the best way to protect them from 14 serious childhood diseases, like whooping cough and measles.

Some of the vaccines that babies get can wear off as they get older. And as they grow up they may come in contact with different diseases than when they were babies. There are vaccines that can help protect teens from illnesses, such as tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). Teens also require tetanus, diphtheria and activated pertussis vaccine (TDaP) and meningococcal vaccine, but the human papillomavirus vaccine is the least received by adolescents, according to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

One way to share the message to Americans, especially those in medically underserved areas, is through education.

That message was important to a third-year professional student pharmacist at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy.

Kelsi Gulick of Pearsall, Texas, directly impacted her hometown community in Frio County when she shared the importance of immunizations during her H-E-B internship in summer 2013. She was rewarded when she witnessed changes in the underserved community and received the honor of Intern of the Year in the Gulf Coast and Southwest Region for H-E-B.

Pearsall is in the middle of the more than 119 counties in Texas that are medically underserved, where patients do not have enough information or the resources for necessary immunizations. Gulick wanted to share the importance of immunizations and the schedule of vaccines that children need to have for prevention.

Gulick spent part of each day walking the Pearsall H-E-B and talking with patients face-to-face about the importance of vaccines. She gave customers fliers and discussed the schedule for children entering school.

“Most of them were happy for the reminder and many were not aware of the vaccination schedule,” Gulick said.

In addition, Gulick prepared informational immunization packets describing the vaccines available at her pharmacy. She included vaccines that doctor’s offices typically do not keep because of price or storage capacity, such as Pneumovax for pneumonia, and Zostavax, that prevents herpes zoster- shingles.  

In the store, Gulick placed immunization lists on bright paper next to the school supply lists that parents needed for back-to-school shopping.

“I put the lists at every register and in prescription bags for customers,” she said.

Immediately, Gulick said, the pharmacy saw an increase in vaccinations because Gulick was letting patients know that vaccines were available at the pharmacy.

“Our summer promotion on vaccines focused on back to school needs for those entering the seventh grade and entering college freshmen,” said Patsy Cavazos, H-E-B Pharmacy director for the Gulf Coast and southwest region.

The vaccine for meningitis was the main vaccine tracked.  During the promotion period, Gulick’s program generated a 31 percent increase in vaccine delivery over the previous year.

“Even though the Pearsall H-E-B is one of our newest locations, they led the southwest region in vaccine numbers,” Cavazos said. “These results were a direct result of our intern of the year making vaccines a focus in her underserved rural community.”

In fact, the store that sees about 1,000 prescriptions in a week had more vaccinations than any other store the southwest region.

“My thought was: ‘What if every pharmacist did this?’ I wish others could take the time to teach patients about immunizations,” Gulick said.

In addition to vaccine needs of children and adolescents, thousands of adults in the United States die each year because they are not protected against diseases that could be prevented by routine vaccinations. Adults are recommended to discuss vaccinations with their primary care physician often to ensure that they are immunized against these preventable diseases.

According to the CDC, “vaccine-preventable diseases still circulate in the U.S. and around the world, so continued vaccination is necessary to protect everyone from potential outbreaks.” Even with the risk being rare in the U.S., these diseases can enter the country, which would put unvaccinated children at risk.

One example of the seriousness of vaccine-preventable diseases is an increase in measles cases or outbreaks that were reported in 2013. “Data from 2013 showed a higher than normal number of measles cases nationally and in individual states, including an outbreak of 58 cases in New York City that was the largest reported outbreak of measles in the U.S. since 1996,” the CDC reported.

As Gulick shared with patients during her internship, it’s important to vaccinate to put the immune system on high alert to protect against preventable diseases. And it’s a simple shot at your local pharmacy.

— Cheri Shipman

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