Touro College of Pharmacy is Awarded $467,467 Grant from Pfizer to Increase Pneumonia Vaccination Rates in Harlem

Grant Looks to Address Gaps in Vaccination Rates in Low-Income Harlem Areas and to Shrink Disparities

February 06, 2013

Statistics tell the story: For the past decade, flu and pneumonia have been among the top three causes of death in New York City. In the predominantly minority low-income areas of Central and East Harlem, fewer than 40 percent of residents 50 years and older have been vaccinated for pneumonia -- far short of the national goal of 90 percent for seniors. In high-poverty areas like Harlem, rates of serious pneumococcal disease, including pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis, are almost 50 percent higher than national estimates, and more than double the rates found in more affluent New York City neighborhoods.

To address these gaps and shrink the disparities, Touro College of Pharmacy in Harlem has received a $467,467 grant from Pfizer Medical Education Group to work with community pharmacies to increase vaccination rates among the at-risk populations of Central and East Harlem.

“There are tens of thousands of Harlem residents who are eligible for pneumococcal vaccine and who would benefit greatly from information about vaccines and access to affordable immunization services,” said Audrey Jacobson, M.D., MPH, director of public health education, practice, and research at the school.

Dr. Jacobson, the grant’s principal investigator, and Ronnie Moore, Pharm.D., co-investigator and the school’s senior director of practice experience, will head up a team of five staff members and advanced doctoral pharmacy students who will identify barriers to pharmacies’ delivery of pneumococcal vaccine. They will also develop innovative strategies to help pharmacists in overcoming these barriers.

“Community pharmacies with multiple walk-in sites, extensive hours, and relatively low-cost vaccines are ideal for providing convenient, affordable vaccine services, and can help increase vaccine rates and address the racial and ethnic disparities,” said Stuart Feldman, Ph.D., founding dean of the College. “Addressing disparities in the public health arena is front and center to our mission as a pharmacy school.”

Dr. Moore emphasized that as part of the school’s training, doctoral students are nationally certified to provide immunizations, and their role in carrying out the goals of the grant will be significant. “This will be an opportunity for our Pharm.D. students to serve as resources for the participating pharmacies on the use of the vaccine and which patients are suitable to receive it,” he said.

According to Dr. Jacobson, Harlem community pharmacists have been effective in immunizing residents against the flu, yet similar progress with pneumonia vaccines has been far more limited. She attributes the disparity to lack of awareness of the need, and also to practical and financial obstacles specific to the pneumonia vaccine. “Our initiative is coupling education with new strategies to overcome these barriers and make immunization more viable and profitable,” she said.

The Touro College of Pharmacy, which opened in Harlem in September 2008, is committed to offering increased educational opportunities – especially in Harlem – through programs in pharmacy education, research and scholarship, and through services to the community and the profession. The school’s unique “2+2” educational model provides two years of instruction followed by two years of full-time experiential education. For practice experience, the College has established significant affiliations at 83 sites, including at pharmacies, hospitals, community- based organizations, public agencies and health insurance organizations. Additionally, the school and its students have won significant awards and recognition, including from the American Pharmacist Association, the United States Public Health Service, and the New York State Council of Health-system Pharmacists.