$12 billion saving if all qualified pharmacists can COVID vaccinate

Immediate mobilisation of the nation’s health “missing link” would shave two months off vax target, report concludes

The Federal Government “shouldn’t rest” until all 4000 pharmacists qualified to deliver vaccines are giving COVID-19 vaccinations on a daily basis, saving the economy a potential $12 billion, according to the co-author of a major report on Australia’s vaccine rollout.

In conjunction with publication of the McKell Institute report “ The Missing Link: How Pharmacies Can Accelerate Australia’s Vaccine Roll-Out”, its CEO Michael Buckland said it was “baffling” the government has “been so slow to deploy one of our most powerful divisions – the nation’s pharmacies”.

The 30-page report said Australia currently had a smaller population fully vaccinated than any other country in the OECD and there was particularly “a major lag in the delivery of Primary Care vaccinations”.

Quoting the Federal Government’s Epidemiology and COVID-19 Vaccine Roadmap it said the States and Territories were expected to have “provided 2.4 million doses while the Commonwealth should have administered 9.2 million doses by the week of 12 July”.

“As of this date, the states have reached their target but the Commonwealth has fallen well below their target through both Primary Care and Aged Care & Disability Care programs,” it said.

The same Roadmap said 2,000 pharmacies should have been administering 200,0000 doses per week from 7 June 2021 but that as of 12 July 2021, “only 65 pharmacies were online to administer COVID-19 vaccines”.

Using 80% of the population vaccinated as a yardstick – a figure NSW Premier’s Gladys Berejiklian has said is the point at which “Fortress Australia” could open up – it said that with the current number pharmacies on board, it would take until the middle of January 2022 to achieve that goal.

But if all vaccine qualified pharmacies – 4000 in all – were brought online Australia could achieve “its vaccination targets 41–56 days faster than in the current base case scenario of just 65 pharmacies now online” it said, that target reachable by 19 November this year.

It said the government’s COVID-19 Vaccination Allocation Horizons plan at 11 July 2021 showed sufficient supply of vaccines for the approximately 4,000 suitable pharmacies to participate in the COVID-19 vaccination program.

After one million Pfizer vaccinations arrived in the country on Sunday night Lieutenant General John Frewen, who is heading the national Covid-19 vaccine program told the ABC yesterday (18 July) that these would still be distributed “either through the commonwealth GPs and distribution centres or through the state distribution hubs.”

While the number of GPs giving vaccines would be increased to 1300 by the end of July, he said, the government was only now “on the verge of starting to bring in more pharmacists” administering AstraZeneca to begin but also receiving training to give mRNA vaccines (such as Pfizer) as well.

On Sunday Health Minister Greg Hunt said 2.8 million people had had first and second vaccination shots with 7.2 million – or 35.1% of the population – having had “at least” their first dose.

The report made three three specific recommendations;

  • All governments should allow their pharmacies to administer any TGA approved COVID-19 vaccine and the Commonwealth include pharmacists for new COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The Commonwealth should immediately allocate vaccines to at least 2,000 pharmacies in locations with a high risk of infection and or poor access to vaccination sites and sbould bring in all 4,000 approved pharmacies into the roll-out as soon as possible.
  • The Commonwealth should work closely with Aboriginal peak bodies to increase the roll-out because Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services were below the vaccine target level.


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  1. Karalyn Huxhagen

    I completed all of the training and have read, watched and participated in GP clinics delivering COVID vaccinations.

    a few points of rationalisation for the pharmacy I manage are:

    1. we do not have the space for the distance between patients/customers/those wanting covid injections
    2. I do not have the staff available to perform the copious amounts of admin/drawing up of doses/supervising the customers/patients/covid vaccination people. I cannot gain enough qualified, competent staff to run a normal phcy
    3. pharmacy is not being given the same payment amounts as GP surgeries but we are expected to perform the same tasks

    I am all for phcy being a deliverer of COVID vaccination but the CURRENT guidelines make it really tough for small phcies. I cannot place the ‘waiting’ or thos requiring ‘survelliance’ in a special bubble area.

    While I am not saying phcy should not be involved there are other models that we can assist in and funding models should look at where we can be used. I cannot give my time and expertise for free.

    • Sean

      Regarding point 2 – I suspect you could actually find enough staff to run a normal pharmacy and administer a COVID19 vaccination program, but the owner of the pharmacy you manage has placed a strict limit on wages as a percentage of sales. The last thing pharmacy owners want to see is their profits from COVID19 vaccinations eaten up by having to hire locum pharmacists to handle the increased workload. This is why pharmacists command less money than GP surgeries for the same services; pharmacy owners are willing to bet that employee pharmacists will accept more work/responsibility without any increase in pay or staffing, thus allowing owners to undercut surgeries while still making a handsome profit.

      Apologies if my assumptions are wrong, but I think this will probably ring true to many other pharmacist managers out there.

      • Nicholas Logan

        $16 + $16 + $10 for two injections including discussion, consent and supervision (twice) doesn’t look like a handsome profit from any angle. This is a community service.

        • Sean

          Fair enough Nicholas, the term “handsome profit” is pretty loaded and I shouldn’t have used it. However, I think it will still be profitable especially if there’s no commensurate increase in staffing. This is before factoring in the value of goodwill and incidental sales from the increased foot traffic. Absentee pharmacy owners who want to say this is just a community service can either hire additional staff to assist with the additional workload or run the vaccination program themselves. Failing to do so will increase the likelihood of dispensing errors and employee burnout. (I’m not accusing you of being an absentee pharmacy owner but rather the Guild heavyweight types who have been saying the same thing whilst ignoring/downplaying industry-wide workload issues)

          If you don’t think it will be profitable I’m happy to be proven wrong – I have no experience owning a pharmacy. There may be factors that I’m not considering.

          • TALL POPPY

            The reasons for doing the COVID vaccination are primarily to put pharmacy in a good light, ‘saving the day’ in front of the Government and Australia. Then it will be easier to negotiate with the Govt. for future $$$ to owners. In the short term, it will also drive more traffic into the store and therefore sales. It is, actually, therefore largely profit driven. Who would have guessed right?

            This is the shocking truth most young pharmacists don’t get this and furthermore all vaccinating pharmacists should realise this is their ABSOLUTE BEST opportunity to get a raise. In fact, potentially all pharmacists could argue that workloads will increase across the board (they already have for many during COVID) therefore warranting a pay increase. Good luck.

        • PharmOwner

          Hi Nick,
          It’s not profitable. As Karalyn pointed out, it’s a lot less than what GPs get paid for delivering exactly the same service. And some GPs are telling me it’s not worth their while to do COVID vaccines when other services/Medicare fees are more profitable for them. If the Commonwealth is serious about rolling out COVID vaccines, they need to stump up the funds to do it properly and equitably between medicos and pharmacists. Get with the program ScoMo!

    • Paul Sapardanis

      Great post karalyn. I have a question for you. Why in pharmacy are we so happy to provide services that are below cost ( eg DAA’s NDSS deliveries ).

      • Sean

        I would be shocked if vaccinations are actually sold below cost in most pharmacies. Those other services are loss-leaders to build customer loyalty. People who require DAAs, NDSS items, and deliveries are likely to be on multiple long-term medications so their loyalty represents guaranteed regular income. By comparison, a vaccination doesn’t necessarily guarantee a returning customer. This might vary based on area, but most of the flu shots we do are healthy young to middle aged people who need it for work and can’t get it for free from their GP.

        • Red Pill

          Have you not seen discounters doing flu shots for $13.95?
          They are definitely doing it at cost price just to get people in.

          • Paul Sapardanis

            Is it to get people in ( yes definitely ) or is it also to disrupt the pharmacy network and for them to fulfill their ambition to sell?

          • Sean

            What do you mean by “disrupting the pharmacy network” Paul?

          • Sean

            The unit price of an influenza vaccine is ~$8 right? Who knows how much cheaper discounters get it for. I can’t really share the maths here but by my estimates it only costs a discounter a few dollars of labour to administer a flu shot. It’s possible that when you factor in opportunity cost (what other sales could the pharmacy be generating with the same floor space and labour) that it becomes unprofitable, but they’re definitely not vaccinating at or below cost price. Granted, it’s probably not extremely profitable for them at $13.95.

          • Red Pill

            Don’t forget many brands don’t come with a needle. Plus the alcohol swab and the band aid for each patient. That usually brings up the price to about $10. If we include the labour costs into it (10 mins of pharmacist time to revise the answers to the questionnaire, administer the vaccine and complete the paperwork) and you have definitely lost a good $10 per administered vaccine. Not to mention the disruption it introduces to the dispensary workflow.

          • Sean

            1. The swab and bandaid only cost a few cents per patient when they’re purchased in bulk. The needle only costs around a dollar.

            2. One jab every 10 minutes? You gotta pump those numbers up if you wanna hang with the sharpshooters at the warehouse, my friend

            3. Yes, there is a disruption to the dispensary workflow. Good thing the pharmacy workforce is full of young, challenge-oriented early career pharmacists who don’t mind working harder and faster to keep the retail operation chugging along

            Ultimately, the figures we’re debating are an insignificant portion of the total revenue of a discount pharmacy. I’ll concede the point that they don’t make much money out of it and they’re primarily doing flu shots to increase foot traffic, but I honestly don’t think they’re doing it below cost price


    Use COVID to negotiate a higher wage. Now is your best and last chance. I said this last year: Vaccinations for COVID are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn what you are worth for taking on the extra service, training and immense responsibility plus stress of performing this important task.

    Mark my words…if you don’t stand up for yourselves and entitlements no one else will. You will only be fools and have yourselves to blame. Your cause will be quickly forgotten which is what they are hoping. Doing extra for nothing is not good, does not create happiness in the long-run and no other professionals will allow that to happen to themselves.

    Question WHY the governing bodies of pharmacy have not mentioned extra pay for employee pharmacists undertaking the training – do they honestly believe hard-working, qualified pharmacists should undertake extra work and responsibility for nothing? Please do not believe you are simply doing it for humanity. There is much $$$ flowing behind the scenes.

    And they wonder why so many leave the profession. Act now!

    Good Luck.

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