Last year, U.S. citizens visited foreign counties near 62 million times, according to the federal Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. Growing international travel makes the sale of travel vaccines business opportunity for community pharmacists to fulfill an important clinical need in their communities.
Here, two former Cardinal Health executives—Scott Summers and Eleanor Daufenbach—talk about how pharmacies can capitalize on this opportunity.
Q: What makes travel vaccines so attractive to community pharmacists?
Scott: As one of the most trusted professions in healthcare, pharmacists are in a unique position to offer consultation to their patients on the benefits of travel vaccines and to administer the vaccines in a convenient location. One of the biggest advantages to the pharmacy is the opportunity to prevent the global spread of infection—while also servicing a cash-paying clientele. Today, pharmacies depend heavily on third-party reimbursement. The typical community pharmacy gets 92% of its revenue from reimbursement and only 8% from the store's front end. I consider travel vaccines part of the front end because most patients self-pay for travel vaccines. Insurance companies generally don't cover for vaccines needed for international travel.
Q: How do pharmacies start in the travel vaccine business?
Eleanor: Nobody starts out doing travel vaccines. Rather, it’s usually a natural extension of an existing vaccine business. If you’re already doing flu and pneumococcal vaccines, you can add this product line and service without additional operating expense.
Q: Is the travel vaccine business a product or service?
Eleanor: Both. International travelers often need one or two consultations to get all the right vaccinations. Some vaccinations require two shots. A pharmacy might charge $25 or $35 for a consultation, perhaps more for a comprehensive review, in addition to the cost of the product.
Scott: Sixty-one percent of community pharmacists already do vaccines, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association. So most community pharmacies are ready to make the move if their market is right.
Q: How can a pharmacy tell if its market is right?
Eleanor: Large metropolitan areas obviously have lots of international travel. But smaller markets have opportunities, too. The key question to ask is: What are the large institutions in your area? Corporations and academic institutions often generate lots of international travel.
Scott: Reach out to larger churches, too. Missionary work can drive lots of international travel, especially to more exotic locations that require special vaccines.
Q: What must a pharmacist to do to start selling travel vaccines?
Eleanor: The American Pharmacists Association has a Travel Health Services course that's a great place place to get the knowledge you need. Cardinal Health also offers continuing education course for pharmacies using our Immunization Specialized Care Center.
Q: What regulations or licensing rules must be followed?
Eleanor: This varies by state. You should check with your state board of pharmacy. Some states require special training or certificates for handling certain types of vaccines. Pharmacies that do vaccines already follow many regulations, such as having an exposure control plan, procedures for handling blood-borne pathogens, logs for refrigerators and freezers, and so on. Travel vaccine regulations are an extension of this.
Q: How do you market this business?
Scott: Signage in the store, in-store radio, newspaper ads and reaching out to potential customers, such as human resources department in corporations and churches, are good places to start. It never hurts to have a relationship with a physician, but in the travel vaccine business, customers often flow from relationships with employers and institutions, rather than from physicians.
Eleanor: Word of mouth drives many travel vaccine businesses. For many pharmacies, this business makes you a destination store.
Q: How can travel vaccines make a pharmacy a destination?
Eleanor: When a pharmacy does something different and valuable, people hear about its niche and will travel surprising distances for those services. Customers can’t walk in to any pharmacy at any time and get a yellow fever vaccine. They will find you.
Q: Can pharmacists leverage the travel vaccine business in other ways?
Eleanor: Definitely. International travelers need specific products. A surfer or someone attending the World Cup may need sunscreen. Someone going on an African safari or to an exotic location may need something for traveler’s diarrhea. While there are prescription medications for this, over-the-counter treatments are still the first line of defense and another way pharmacies can generate revenue, while providing a convenient shopping experience for their customers.
Q: What travel vaccines are most common?
Eleanor: What's needed always depends on the specific country at a specific time. The U.S. State Department and the Centers for Disease Control are the definitive sources for what a traveler needs. As an example, the CDC says a person going to rural India may need – in addition to routine vaccinations, such as a flu shot – vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, rabies and yellow fever. You can see how this can be a good way to diversify revenue. The pharmacist has both valuable products and services that travelers are willing to pay for themselves. Imagine servicing a church group going to India. You could reach both current and new customers, which could lead to repeat visits. You could provide a convenient, local way to get all of their travel vaccines met in one location. And you could diversify your revenue, too. Travel vaccines are a win for patients and for your pharmacy.
Scott: As the economy becomes more globalized, the travel vaccine business will grow with it.