When Pennsylvania law was amended in 2007 to allow pharmacists to administer vaccinations, Diane Silverman, 55, of Squirrel Hill was one of the first to become certified. Ever since, her experience and advocacy has gotten her national attention as a supporter of immunization implementation.
In August, Mrs. Silverman was one of three pharmacists invited to Chicago to participate in an Expert Input Forum on Adult Vaccine Implementation organized by Merck & Co. Inc. Mrs. Silverman said she offered practical suggestions for modifying the company's vaccine development strategies and improving the effectiveness of immunizations.
Since getting her immunization certification in 2007, Mrs. Silverman has given more than 3,000 flu, pneumonia and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccinations. She has also administered nearly 3,000 Zostavax [shingles preventative] immunizations.
"In 2009, I was invited to speak at a Zostavax forum in Philadelphia," Mrs. Silverman said. "The head of the forum remembered me and subsequently asked me to be one of the speakers at the Merck forum. It was an honor to be selected."
Much of Mrs. Silverman's immunizations take place at the Medicine Shoppe in Penn Hills, a pharmacy of which she is part owner. But she also goes into the community to conduct clinics. She went to State College to vaccinate 70 crew members working on the film "Unstoppable."
"I've done as many as 70 immunizations a day for business owners who provide them as a free benefit to employees," she said.
Mrs. Silverman said the Zostavax vaccine is 52 percent effective in preventing shingles and 100 percent effective in reducing its severity. She also said the Center for Disease Control recommends that people 60 and over should get the vaccine and that the Food and Drug Administration advises the vaccine for those 50 and older, regardless of their history of chicken pox.
Another aspect of immunization that concerns her is the growing incidence of pertussis. As of Oct. 3, the Allegheny Health department reported 196 cases of the disease. By comparison, the previous yearly high for reported cases was 116 in 1967.
"This year, most states have reported more cases of pertussis than the previous year," she said. "Across the United States, 23,000 cases have been reported, which resulted in 13 deaths."
Mrs. Silverman said many health practitioners believed pertussis had been eradicated, so the vaccine was no longer offered as it had been with a single immunization for tetanus and diphtheria called Tdap.
"As we age, immunity to disease wanes," she said. "And, most have not had a pertussis booster shot. For the first time, the CDC is recommending those over 65 get a single Tdap shot, which now includes the pertussis vaccine."
Mrs. Silverman is a strong supporter of flu immunization.
"The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months get the flu vaccine and also advises the best time to be vaccinated is as soon as it becomes available,'' she said.
"Some people believe that the vaccine causes the flu, which is untrue. They've probably waited too long before getting the vaccine, which takes two weeks to produce flu antibodies in the body, and probably had already been infected by the virus before getting the shot."
People at high risk for the flu include cancer patients, seniors, college students, teachers and day care and health care workers and those with asthma.
"I'd been a practicing pharmacist for a long time, but in 2007, when I got my immunization certification, I am passionate to increase the immunization rates in my community," she said.
"My next mission is to increase the awareness of the importance of the pertussis vaccine because the disease is again becoming a problem."
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: email@example.com.