ATLANTA — It’s going to be a little harder to get a flu shot at some Georgia pharmacies this season.
Several of the state’s large pharmacy chains said Friday they’ll require that each customer have a prescription from their doctor to get a shot. For years now, patients have been able to pay a fee and pharmacists would administer the shot without the customer needing any paperwork.
But a complaint filed this year with the Georgia Board of Pharmacy prompted a surprising legal decision: the flu vaccine is classified as a dangerous drug in Georgia, which means a prescription has been needed all along.
That touched off a flurry of sometimes contradictory advice from medical and pharmacy officials in the state and worries that shots would be harder to obtain this season.
Gov. Sonny Perdue weighed in, telling pharmacists that they should “continue prior practices” without fearing prosecution.
“For public health reasons, we believe it is imperative that pharmacists and others act as they have in the past,” Perdue said.
“This administration will not call for sanctions against those acting in the best interests of Georgians and in a manner consistent with past practices.”
But some of the larger pharmacy chains in the state say they aren’t taking any chances.
Spokesmen for The Kroger Co. and Publix Supermarkets, which operate a combined 327 pharmacies throughout Georgia, each said they would now require customers to have a prescription for a flu shot.
“We are very appreciative of the governor’s support of the flu shot program,” Publix spokeswoman Brenda Reid said. “However, at this point we will not be able to offer flu shots to our customers without a prescription.
Kroger spokesman Brendon Cull aid the company was studying the rules but, at least for now, a prescription will be required.
CVS Pharmacies, which has about 300 pharmacies throughout the state, will be operating a number of walk-in clinics. The shots will be given by a nurse practitioner so a prescription won’t be required, spokesman Mike DeAngelis said.
Pharmacy officials are hoping the state Legislature will change the law when they return to the state Capitol in January to make it easier for them to administer the shots. Under the old system, pharmacists could get a standing order from a doctor that cleared the way for them to be able to hand out shots en masse.
What the impact of this year’s rule change will be is uncertain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control most people ‚Äî about 34 percent ‚Äî get flu shots from their doctors. Seven percent received them at stores or pharmacies, the CDC said.
Flu shots began this month.
Each year, influenza causes 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths, according to the CDC. The elderly, young children and people with chronic illnesses are at greatest risk for severe illness, but the CDC recommends that a wide variety of people get vaccinated:
Stuart Griffin, spokesman for the Georgia Pharmacy Association, said the best way for Georgians to learn what their local pharmacies require is to call beforehand. In some instances, the pharmacy can call a doctor to get a prescription over the phone, streamlining the process.