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Opinion – Alicia Dawson: HB 274 prioritizes care for Kentucky children and promotes overall public welfare – NKyTribune

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At a time when childhood vaccination rates are at historic lows, it is important to ensure that all parents have access and choice to health care providers who can provide life-saving vaccinations in their communities. With almost every community in Kentucky having a trusted local pharmacy, it only makes sense that pharmacists step up and fill gaps in care when it comes to important childhood vaccinations.

Fortunately, House Bill 274, a law allowing pharmacists in Kentucky to continue administering vaccines to children ages 5 and older with the consent of their parents or guardians, was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Beshear.

Alicia Dawson (Photo provided)

We applaud Senator 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. However, some comments were made during the legislative process that require clarification of the true intent and meaning of HB 274.

This legislation does not impose compulsory vaccinations nor does it exclude parents' ability to have a pediatrician administer their children's routine vaccinations. This legislation simply improves access to health care for Kentuckians who may lack primary care and pediatric providers in their community. As of June 2023, 51 of 120 counties in Kentucky had a shortage of pediatricians. However, 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy.

The lack of care, coupled with the number of Kentucky children dangerously behind on their routine childhood vaccinations, would have resulted in a serious public health crisis had the General Assembly and Governor not supported HB 274. Kentucky ranked 36th in kindergarten MMR vaccinations for the 2022-2023 school year, and our children are receiving vaccinations at levels so low that herd immunity is at risk.

HB 274 opens the door for families to protect both their children and the public from diseases that have long been preventable through vaccines. Increased availability means higher rates of routine vaccinations and an overall improvement in public health.

Pharmacists have played a key role in delivering vaccines for many years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists have been critical to ensuring our neighbors could receive their vaccinations quickly to stay healthy. It is a misguided concern to say that a pharmacist is not knowledgeable about vaccines or does not have the same patient medical history as the primary care physician.

As pharmacists, we are experts in drug therapy and vaccinations and are ideally qualified to answer questions about vaccinations and carry them out. When it comes to the patient's medical history, it is important to note that the opportunity to get vaccinated at a local pharmacy is not a substitute for visits to the doctor and regular check-ups. However, when primary care is difficult to obtain, pharmacists can step in to provide complementary medical advice and help connect patients with local providers.

While it's not a perfect solution for those who don't have access to basic healthcare, it's a step in the right direction. HB 274 gives Kentuckians the best chance to stay healthy against vaccine-preventable diseases.

HB 274 is about giving Kentucky parents the choices they need. No one should have to go without life-saving vaccinations because of where they live. If parents have difficulty getting their children to the doctor, they should have the right to seek medical care through a pharmacist.

On behalf of pharmacists across the Commonwealth, we thank Governor Beshear and the Kentucky General Assembly for making it easier for families to access essential vaccines close to home in the coming years.

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.