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Controversial Amendments Injected Into Florida Vaccine Bill

Tallahassee – On the second floor of the state Capitol building white coats swarm the halls. Tables in the lobby offer skin cancer screenings and cholesterol tests—a mini medical center, showcasing some of the services that local pharmacies provide. But retailers want to offer even more services and physicians from around the state are pushing back.

Pharmacists descended on the state capitol Wednesday to support a bill sponsored by state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan, R-Miami, which would allow them to give shingles and pneumonia vaccines to seniors.

“Many seniors contract shingles and pneumonia and this vaccine will prevent hundreds of thousands of seniors from not only contracting the disease, but from the complications of the disease,” she said, adding that the law could make vaccinations more affordable.

“Going to a doctor’s office to receive the vaccination requires a copayment to the physician and then the vaccine payment. This will allow the senior to just have the vaccine.”

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Lynn Hatter, of WFSU reports:

Five years ago, the state started letting pharmacies offer flu vaccines. Since then, the number of flu vaccinations throughout Florida has gone up. Advocates point to that as evidence that more people take advantage of immunizations when it’s more convenient and that pharmacies should be able to provide pneumonia and shingles vaccinations.

“It’s a question of access,” according to Sally West, director of government affairs for the Florida Retail Federation. “Ninety percent of Floridians live less than five miles from a pharmacy. Pharmacies serve the underserved, minority and rural communities.”

But turf battles over who can administer vaccines have long been fought between pharmacists and doctors, who have historically been the gatekeepers of immunizations. Physicians say they have concerns about patient care and giving vaccination power to pharmacists, who do not have the same training as doctors.

“We want to make sure that people are immunized, and we want to increase the rate of immunizations, but what we don’t want to do is put people unnecessarily in jeopardy,” said Rebecca O’Hara, vice president of governmental affairs for the Florida Medical Association.

The pharmacist-physician battle is playing out in the state senate version of the bill. Senate President-Designate Don Gaetz, a Republican, attached an amendment requiring doctors to write prescriptions for the vaccines before patients can get them at their local pharmacy.

Senator Dennis Jones says that defeats the purpose of the bill. “This prescription is not necessary. It is going to cost money. People are going to have to be inconvenienced by making an appointment, paying a co-pay and getting another piece of paper to take to the pharmacy, where right now they can walk into their local pharmacy to obtain these services.”

But Gaetz held firm with his amendments. “By adopting these two amendments I think we’ll have the votes to pass the bill. Failing that, I think the bill could be in trouble as it goes forward.”

Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, who is an osteopathic physician, argued that pharmacies would offer free or low-cost vaccinations as “loss leaders” to attract customers who will buy other goods — an offer that doctors can’t match.

“I’m against the expansion of pharmacies doing things that would otherwise be reserved for physicians,” Renuart said.

Another disagreement centers on a Senate amendment that would require pharmacists to go through a certification program that would be offered by a physicians’ group, likely the Florida Medical Association.

The proposal cleared the Senate Health Regulation Committee on a 6-1 vote. It passed 10-to-5 in the House Committee. Lobbyists for the pharmacies and physician groups say they’ll try to work out their differences as the proposals move through the two chambers.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

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