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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI pharmacy professor awarded $703,000 grant from Pfizer to boost R.I. pneumonia vaccination rates

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. – March 25, 2013 -- The Pfizer Medical Education Group has awarded a University of Rhode Island pharmacy professor a $703,000, 2.5-year grant to boost the pneumonia vaccination rate among Rhode Islanders older than 65 and those with compromised immune systems.

Associate Professor of Pharmacy Kerry L. LaPlante was one of only two applicants out of 70 nationwide to receive such a grant from the Pfizer group.

“Pfizer Medical Education Group liked the idea that we will be able to have an impact on the entire state,” said LaPlante, whose specialties are infectious disease and drug resistant bacteria.

The East Greenwich resident, who also holds a research appointment at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Providence, said the project’s goal is to increase the vaccination rate from the current 71.7 percent to 90 percent. The initiative is especially important for Rhode Island, according to LaPlante, because the state has seen the incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease (pneumonia) increase from 9.1 per 100,000 individuals in 2007 to 11.9 in 2010. The 2010 incidence of invasive pneumonia was also markedly higher in the state compared to the national rate, 11.9 versus 8.8 per 100,000 individuals.

As part of the application process, LaPlante received letters of support from Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, Daniel Lefkowtiz, president of the Rhode Island Pharmacists Association, Patricia Raymond, chief of the Office of Immunization at the Rhode Island Department of Health, Mary Falvey, executive director of the Ocean State Immunization Coalition, CVS Care Caremark, Rite Aid and Target pharmacies, as well as other groups.

“This was a highly competitive grant process and I congratulate Professor LaPlante and the URI College of Pharmacy on its success,” Chafee said. “I was proud to support Professor LaPlante’s application because this valuable funding will ultimately help us achieve a healthier state – and that is a goal we all share.”

“With such great support and involvement from so many agencies and companies, we can achieve the goals of this project,” LaPlante said. “We are going to help make it as easy as possible for health care professionals to vaccinate their patients, including help with billing. This vaccine saves lives.”

The Rhode Island Department of Health and eight other URI pharmacy professors are working with LaPlante on the grant titled, “Addressing Educational and Coordination Barriers for Adult Pneumococcal Disease Prevention in Rhode Island.”

There are four key components to the project: education, coordination, communication and outcomes.

“Our education outreach will include one-on-one meetings with community pharmacists, primary care physicians and other providers, including free clinics, clinics that serve diverse populations and ambulatory settings,” LaPlante said. “We will accomplish this by involving faculty and our college partners, including 20 students.”

The team will focus on the elderly, smokers and underserved racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse communities,” she said. “We want to improve coordination of care between health care practitioners as it relates to the vaccine,” LaPlante said.

To accomplish that, the team will distribute wallet cards, template letters and vaccination reminder postcards to pharmacies for their patients to coordinate care and foster communication with the patients’ primary care providers. The project also calls for 30-second public service radio announcements that will convey the importance of vaccination among adults older than 65 and smokers.

“We will coordinate this effort with the Department of Health’s Ocean State Adult Immunization Coalition, which has developed similar ads for statewide vaccination,” LaPlante said.

Finally, the team will measure the effectiveness of the project by assessing the change in the incidence of pneumonia between the beginning and the end of the project. It will also evaluate the impact of the project on hospital admissions for pneumonia throughout the state.

The assessment also includes changes in pneumonia vaccinations rates, the impact of education and coordination efforts among patients and health care professionals. LaPlante said results will be published and will include a step-by-step guide detailing each phase of the project, as well as the lessons learned.

The following URI pharmacy professors are also on the project team: Jeffrey Bratberg, Aisling Caffrey, Brett Feret, Stephen Kogut, Virginia Lemay, K. Kelly Orr, Michelle Thomas, and Kristina Ward.