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Published January 06, 2011, 12:00 AM

North Dakota bill would ease flu shot regulations

Measure would lower age limit for those allowed to get shots from pharmacists
BISMARCK – More North Dakotans may soon be able to go to their local drugstore to get their flu shots.

BISMARCK – More North Dakotans may soon be able to go to their local drugstore to get their flu shots.

Senate Bill 2035 would lower the age for those allowed to get shots from pharmacists.

Right now, North Dakotans must be 18.

State lawmakers are looking to lower the age to 11 for immunizations and vaccinations. Under the bill, residents as young as 5 would be able to get flu shots or mists from a pharmacist.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-N.D., said the bill is aimed at increasing access.

“One of the issues that was discussed during the interim was the changing demographics of North Dakota and the importance of using as many health professionals as we can throughout the state to accomplish these immunization goals,” he said. “We just don’t have all of the medical professionals that we want in each community.”

Pharmacist Jayme Steig at Frontier Pharmacy in West Fargo said last year during the H1N1 scare – when there was a shortage of vaccinations – he had many parents bringing their children in for flu shots that they were unable to provide.

“This legislation helps us provide an additional service,” Steig said.

He said pharmacists will still encourage people to visit their regular doctors for flu vaccines and questions.

There are now 111 licensed pharmacists and 46 pharmacy students authorized to give immunizations in the state, according to the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy.

In the past six months, pharmacists gave 3,461 doses of vaccine, with about 90 percent being flu shots, said Molly Sander, the state’s immunization program manager. Pharmacists need to be certified to give vaccinations.

Alicia Lauf-Pekarski, a pharmacist at Sheyenne Valley Drug in Lisbon and LaMoure Drug Store said she has only given a handful of flu shots so far this season.

She said most people get their shots from county health offices, but the change in law may help busy parents who have a hard time scheduling a family visit to county health for the flu shot.

“I think it might just open up the door for more to get (shots),” Lauf-Pekarski said. “Maybe we’ll have less cases of flu or less severe cases.”

Michael Schwab of the North Dakota Pharmacists Association testified in favor of the bill.

“We’re just here to help try and increase immunization rates in the state,” he said.

There are 19 states without age restrictions and eight states have an age range below 18, Schwab said.

Pharmacists who offer flu vaccinations are required to have specialized training that includes CPR certification, and must attend annual continuing education classes, Steig said.

The North Dakota Medical Association is neutral on the bill, Executive Director Bruce Levi said.

“We do recognize, certainly, alternative venues and want to encourage broader immunization efforts, but the bottom line really was that we were possibly eliminating one good reason why children come in for a well-child visit with their primary care physician,” he said.

He proposed lawmakers amend the bill to require childhood immunizations administered by pharmacists be reported to the state’s immunization information system.

The Senate Human Services Committee approved the amendment and the bill. It now moves to the full Senate.

Forum reporter Wendy Reuer contributed to this report

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.