Many community pharmacies in Switzerland provide so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) approaches in addition to providing biomedical services, and a few pharmacies specialise in SCAM. A common perception is that SCAM providers are sceptical towards, or opposed to, vaccination.
The key objectives of this study were to examine the potential roles of biomedically oriented and SCAM-specialised pharmacists regarding vaccine counselling and to better understand the association between vaccine hesitancy and SCAM. The researchers thus conducted semistructured, qualitative interviews. Transcripts were coded and analysed using thematic analysis. Interview questions were related to:
- type of pharmaceutical care practised,
- views on SCAM and biomedicine,
- perspectives on vaccination,
- descriptions of vaccination consultations in community pharmacies,
- and views on vaccination rates.
Qualitative interviews in three language regions of Switzerland (German, French and Italian). A total of 18 pharmacists (N=11 biomedically oriented, N=7 SCAM specialised) were invited.
Pharmacist participants expressed generally positive attitudes towards vaccination. Biomedically oriented pharmacists mainly advised customers to follow official vaccination recommendations but rarely counselled vaccine-hesitant customers. SCAM-specialised pharmacists were not as enthusiastic advocates of the Swiss vaccination recommendations as the biomedically oriented pharmacists. Rather, they considered that each customer should receive individualised, nuanced vaccination advice so that customers can reach their own decisions. SCAM-specialised pharmacists described how mothers in particular preferred getting a second opinion when they felt insufficiently advised by biomedically oriented paediatricians.
The authors concluded that vaccination counselling in community pharmacies represents an additional option to customers who have unmet vaccination consultation needs and who seek reassurance from healthcare professionals (HCPs) other than physicians. By providing individualised vaccination counselling to vaccine-hesitant customers, SCAM-specialised pharmacists are likely meeting specific needs of vaccine-hesitant customers. As such, research and implementation efforts should more systematically involve pharmacists as important actors in vaccination provision. SCAM-specialised pharmacists particularly should not be neglected as they are important HCPs who counsel vaccine-hesitant customers.
I must say that I find these conclusions odd, perhaps even wrong. Here are my reasons:
- Pharmacists are well-trained healthcare professionals.
- As such, they have ethical obligations towards their customers.
- These obligations include behaving in a way that is optimal for the health of their customers and follows the rules of evidence-based practice.
- This includes explaining to vaccine-hesitant customers why the recommended vaccinations make sense and advising them to follow the official vaccination guidelines.
- SCAM-specialised pharmacist should ask themselves whether offering SCAM is in line with their ethical obligation to provide optimal care and advice to their customers.
I fear that this paper suggests that SCAM-specialised pharmacists might be a danger to the health of their customers. If that is confirmed, they should consider re-training, in my view.