A bill to allow Kentucky pharmacists to order and administer vaccinations to children down to the age of 5 advanced out of committee unanimously.
“This bill is for those counties without pediatricians,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Danny Bentley (R-Russell). “And we know that most people are within five miles of the pharmacy.”
The House Health Services Committee approved House Bill 274 on Feb. 1, and the measure was posted for passage in the full House on Monday, Feb. 5.
The original version of the bill would have allowed pharmacists to order and administer vaccinations to children as young as 3, with the consent of a parent or guardian, but this was increased to age 5 in a committee substitute to appease the Kentucky Medical Association.
Dr. Donald Swikert, a family medicine doctor and KMA member, told Kentucky Health News that the KMA felt it was important to make sure children continued to go to their annual well-check physician visits through age four because those are really “key visits” and “there’s a lot that goes on other than vaccinations.”
Bentley, a pharmacist by trade, said he appreciated the work of the KMA on the bill, but also pointed out that 51 of the state’s counties have no pediatrician.
Since 2017, Kentucky pharmacists have been able to administer vaccinations to children as young as 9, and younger with an order from a health-care provider. The age was lowered to 3 during the Covid-19 public health emergency to help increase access to care, with legislation that is set to expire Oct. 1.
Brooke Hudspeth, president of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association, told the committee that Bentley’s bill would ensure continued access to care.
“House Bill 274 simply codifies the practice that pharmacists across the state have been performing for the past four years, so that we can ensure continued access to care that children and their parents have come to expect,” Hudspeth said. “Pharmacists are trained and educated to screen and administer immunizations to children and adults. ... Your constituents and our patients have come to rely upon access to immunizations at their local pharmacy.”
Bentley stressed that this bill is not a mandate and committee Chair Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill) said she appreciated that aspect of the bill.
“We want to make sure that children are protected from communicable diseases and vaccines have been proven to keep children safe,” Moser said. “It does increase the convenience factor for families and parents and ensures safety and … protection.”
Kentucky kids still playing vaccine catch-up
Access to routine vaccinations remains crucial, especially among kindergarteners, a group whose routine vaccinations seem to have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
In November, Kentucky Health News reported that uptake of the combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine increased last year, after three years of decline, but the state’s rate remains below the national average, and below the level needed to protect the population from measles, a highly contagious disease.
Most of the routine childhood vaccine rates for kindergarteners remain below pre-pandemic levels, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health Kindergarten Immunizations Dashboard. Kentucky’s schools require students to provide up-to-date immunization records at the beginning of each school year, unless exempted for religious or medical reasons.