Vaccines are classified as a dangerous drug in Georgia, due to rare adverse effects reported with some vaccines. Georgia health officials now say they understand the code to mean that a prescription was required all along.
"This is not a law change," Georgia Pharmacy Association director of government affairs Stuart Griffin said, "but rather, a change in how the law is interpreted."
But Schaffner says the Georgia board needs to examine its decision by re-evaluating the dangers of the flu vaccine.
"The number of adverse events [from the flu vaccine] is exceedingly remote," Schaffner said. "We give more influenza vaccine than almost any vaccine annually, and it's among the safest vaccines that we give."
Many Georgia physicians were not consulted before the medical board's decision, said Dr. Jim Wilde, associate professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at Georgia Medical College, who serves on the governor's panel for Georgia's state planning committee for the pandemic flu. He said physicians would agree that the added step of states requiring a prescription for a flu shot is useless.
"Whether the vaccine is administered in a pharmacy or a doctor's office will not change the slight possibility of an adverse effect," Wilde said.
In a written statement on Sept. 11, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue assured that pharmacists would still be allowed to administer a flu shot with or without a prescription.
"We believe it is imperative that pharmacists and others act as they have in the past," he 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 even with the governor's declared position on prescriptions, Griffin said he believes there is still a public health concern, because the number of vaccines ordered by pharmacies decreased between 50 to 80 percent.
"We've been trying to keep this quiet to avoid confusion by the public," Griffin said. "We think the confusion would cause frustration, and the last thing we need is people to avoid getting the flu shot because of this."
Conflicting information between the medical board and the governor has also further confused pharmacies and physicians, according to Wilde.
"The issue is whether or not the shot is being administered with or without a physician's approval," Wilde said. "My request is that we have one common message sent to the state and not two different messages."
Even with the obstacles to flu vaccination apparent, an immediate solution might be difficult to accomplish.
Hrant Jamgochian, director of congressional and state relations with the American Pharmacist Association, said he is working with local offices within each state, including the American Pharmacist Association, the Georgia Pharmacy Board, and other public health organizations within Georgia, to change legislation. However, they will have to wait until the end of this flu season, when lawmakers return to their state offices, to modify the law.
"The growing trend is that the pharmacist is the most accessible health provider out there," Jamgochian said. "There are critical public health needs for immunizations and pharmacists are ready to fill that need with access and quality of care."
Meanwhile, larger pharmacies across the country are finding alternative ways to immunize without the need for prescriptions.