“There is no place for anti-vaccination messages in professional health practice,” says a Pharmacy Board spokesperson as Ahpra explains what’s expected of providers
The National Boards and Ahpra have published a joint statement to help registered health professionals and students understand what is expected of them in giving, receiving, advising on and sharing information about COVID-19 vaccines.
According to the Health Department, phase 2A of the rollout, including in community pharmacies, is expected to begin in May 2021.
The Boards and Ahpra say that it is vital that registered health practitioners and students are vaccinated against the novel coronavirus unless medically contraindicated.
They are critical to the rollout’s success, the regulators say, by being appropriately qualified and trained to administer COVID-19 vaccines if authorised; and by providing accurate information and advice about the vaccine, including in social media and advertising.
Co-chair of the Forum of NRAS Chairs and Pharmacy Board Chair, Brett Simmonds, said all registered practitioners have a key role to play by ensuring they provide accurate, evidence-based information to patients about COVID-19 vaccines.
“National Boards support the vaccine program and encourage all registered health practitioners to get vaccinated unless medically contraindicated,” he said.
“The codes of conduct for each of the registered health professions explain the public health obligations of registered health practitioners, including participating in efforts to promote the health of the community and meeting obligations on disease prevention.
“There is no place for anti-vaccination messages in professional health practice, and any promotion of anti-vaccination claims including on social media, and advertising may be subject to regulatory action.”
The statement notes that the Boards expect all practitioners to use their professional judgement and the best available evidence in practice, including when sharing information about public health issues such as COVID-19 and the vaccine.
“When advocating for community and population health, health practitioners must also use their expertise and influence to protect and advance the health and wellbeing of individuals as well as communities and broader populations,” it says.
“Any promotion of anti-vaccination statements or health advice which contradicts the best available scientific evidence or seeks to actively undermine the national immunisation campaign (including via social media) is not supported by National Boards and may be in breach of the codes of conduct and subject to investigation and possible regulatory action.”
It encourages practitioners to make use of the Boards’ social media guidance.
It also reminds practitioners that it is an offence under the National Law to advertise a regulated health service – including via social media – in a way that is false, misleading, or deceptive.
“Advertising that includes false, misleading or deceptive claims about COVID-19, including anti-vaccination material, may result in prosecution by Ahpra.”
If practitioners do have a conscientious objection about receiving, authorising, prescribing or administering COVID-19 vaccinations, they must inform their employer and/or relevant colleagues as soon as reasonably practical, it cautions.
“For example, a practitioner’s personal beliefs may form the basis of a conscientious objection to particular treatments.
“It is important that practitioners inform their patient or client of their conscientious objection where relevant to the patient or client’s treatment or care. In informing their patient or client of a conscientious objection to COVID-19 vaccination, practitioners must be careful not to discourage their patient or client from seeking vaccination.
“Practitioners authorised to prescribe and/or administer the vaccine but who have a conscientious objection must ensure appropriate referral options are provided for vaccination.”
Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher said that it is important that as part of the national response to the pandemic, Australia’s 800,000 registered practitioners and 193,800 students are aware of what is expected of them.
He said the statement “explains the National Boards’ expectations of registered health practitioners about receiving, administering and sharing information about COVID-19 vaccines”.
“It’s important you understand these expectations so that patients and communities are best protected against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”
In releasing the joint statement, the Boards and Ahpra acknowledged the “exceptional” leadership role played by many health practitioners during the pandemic.
“We thank Australia’s hardworking public health leaders who have provided remarkable leadership to protect the Australian community and continue to be key to our national COVID-19 defence,” Mr Fletcher said.
As part of the national vaccine rollout program, practitioners authorised to administer COVID-19 vaccines must complete specific COVID-19 vaccine training, as required by Australian, and State and Territory Governments.
Training in the handling and administration of COVID-19 vaccines protects the public by supporting the vaccination program to be rolled out safely, the regulators say.
All practitioners, including students on placement, must comply with local employer, health service or health department policies, procedures and guidelines on COVID-19 vaccinations.
Concerns about the conduct or practice of a health practitioner can be reported on the Ahpra concerns submission portal. National Boards will consider whether the practitioner has breached their professional obligations and will treat these matters seriously, they say.
Access the full statement here.