AMA ‘resorts to slander’ over vaccines

“One is left to wonder whether the pharmacy business model accommodates ethics,” a prominent GP writes, claiming pharmacies are giving over-65s the wrong vaccine

Medical Observer columnist Dr Pam Rachootin, an Adelaide GP, wrote that when visited by three of her patients aged over 65, she offered them each an opportunistic flu vaccine.

“Turns out, they’d already had one at the chemist,” she wrote.

“Of course it was the wrong vaccine, not specially formulated for flagging immune systems. I was disappointed.”

Dr Rachootin writes that she then asked her husband, a 73-year-old man with a “scruffy grey beard,” to visit five different pharmacies to see how they handled being asked about the flu vaccine.

“All five offered him one. He thanked them and explained that he’d have to wait until two weeks had passed since his COVID-19 vaccination, which was true. 

“Not one pharmacy inquired about his age or directed him to get his influenza vaccine at his GP if he were over 65.

“One is left to wonder whether the pharmacy business model accommodates ethics.”

She wrote that in 2020 in response to an elderly patient who was “courted by a pharmacy to have her flu shot ‘while she was there’,” she told the patient to “get the correct vaccine only available from GPs”.

News Corp health reporter Sue Dunlevy, who has in the past written a number of articles critical of the pharmacy sector, picked up the story, writing in the Herald Sun that “a war has broken out between chemists and doctors over the issue”.

She spoke to Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy, who said that Dr Rachootin’s observations raised the question of whether over-65s were being given information about whether they were being vaccinated with the preferred vaccine.

“This is a conflict of interest issue and the management of it is different in pharmacies because they are selling something whereas doctors don’t sell stuff for monetary gain,” he said, saying pharmacists needed to provide informed consent.

Ms Dunlevy also spoke to Pharmacy Guild national president Trent Twomey, who noted the inconsistencies across jurisdictions which need to be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.

“Many choose to have the under-65 vaccine because they cannot make an appointment to see their GP,” he told Ms Dunlevy.

Anthony Tassone, Victorian branch president of the Guild, agreed that Dr Rachootin’s comments provided an important reminder of the inconsistencies in access of NIP vaccine stock to community pharmacies across the states and territories.

“Whilst we do not know the exact circumstances of the interactions her patients have had with community pharmacies, what we do know is that only: Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT distribute NIP flu vaccine stock to pharmacies,” Mr Tassone told the AJP

“This does not make sense and is not in consistent with providing as broad access as possible for patient-centred care based on their preferences.

“Patients don’t know and don’t care why they’re able to receive an NIP vaccine in a community pharmacy in Wodonga, Victoria but not straight across the Murray River in Albury, New South Wales.”

Mr Tassone noted that as a condition of having access to NIP funded vaccines – including for patients aged over 65 years – community pharmacies in Victoria “are required to inform patients prior to administration whether there is a fee the pharmacy charges and that they may be able to receive it at no-charge from a bulk billed GP consultation”. 

“Community pharmacies were part of the broad team effort to help vaccinate a record number of Australians in 2020 with an estimated three million patients receiving their vaccines from a community pharmacy – in many instances where general practices had closed their doors to face-to-face consultations as they transitioned to telehealth,” he pointed out.

“How peak medical groups have such a short memory from these times where community pharmacies were there for their patients. 

“Instead, the AMA reverts to type to slander pharmacists and pharmacies and question our ethics and whether we put patient interests first.

“Petty turf wars and spats don’t serve the patient’s interest – constructive and mature conversations to broaden access in an appropriate primary health care environment with suitably trained staff does.”


Over the weekend, Mr Tassone had spoken to mainstream media including Channel Nine about the importance of being vaccinated against flu this year, warning viewers not to forget about the jab given the attention on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

“With vastly reduced numbers of flu vaccinations delivered in 2021 compared to last year, there is a genuine concern amongst the health care sector of the potential for complacency amongst our community – what we don’t need is criticism amongst members of the health professional team but a united front to the public in promoting the importance of best protecting yourself, your family and friends by getting your flu vaccination,” he told the AJP.

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  1. robert broadbent

    To be expected – He said, She said. Evidence – Reported conversations? Leading questions? Lets think about best possible outcomes for our patients

  2. Michael Ortiz

    The AMA is back playing politics over turf again. We are in the middle of a pandemic and the AMA is worried about flu vaccinations. The AMA have managed to cut Pharmacies out of COVID vaccinations for the time being which is turning into an absolute fiasco. We should be seeing 1 million doses a week
    by now and not the 2 million doses administered until the end of April (total number of doses since the vaccination program started 22 February). 38 million COVID and 17 million flu doses to go !!

    Is the AMA really about looking after the population safety or are they all about protecting their incomes?

    Government needs to make the same NIP vaccines available to GPs at no charge also available to Pharmacies.

    Australia needs the Government , the AMA and the Guild to work together to deliver 40 million COVID and 17 million flu vaccinations by the end of the year.

    Failure to do so will mean that our borders remain closed for longer and the economy as well as Business will take longer to recover.

  3. JimT

    this is not rocket science.
    1. Need to understand State regulations or better still make the regulations the same Australia wide.
    2. Set protocol of questions to be signed off by patient
    3. The vaccination process , triage and recording etc.
    Happy days !!!

  4. David George

    We have a number over patients over 65 who book in with us to have their flu vaccination done at the pharmacy. On every occasion they are asked whether they are aware of the flu vaccination they can receive free from their GP that has been deemed to be more appropriate for their age. Almost without fail we are advised that it is far more convenient to come to us for their vaccination, even though they need to pay for it.

    I think the AMA (although I note this to be a doctor not listed as an AMA spokesperson) should be asking themselves the question, why is it that there are so many over 65s who would rather pay to have their vaccination done at the local pharmacy than go and see their GP to have it done. Maybe look in your own backyard before you go slandering hard working pharmacists who haven’t hidden during the pandemic, but turned up every day putting their own health at risk to serve their community.

    Maybe if the AMA and quite frankly the Pharmacy Guild and PSA would just shut their mouths and get on with the job of representing their members quietly in appropriate forums instead of in the public media we would actually see more of a reflection of what actually exists. Pharmacists and GPs working together in the community to get things done. I realise I’ve made a snarky comment in my previous paragraph, but I’m just so frustrated at always being considered a 4th class citizen as far as medical bodies are concerned. I along with my colleagues work incredibly hard and are so incredibly sick of being disrespected so often.

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      completely agree on many of your points.

      I would note though that when pharmacy groups remain silent, the criticism doesn’t go away, and from my observations over the last 2 decades, it gets worse.

      Of course, how we raise our voice is important; the PSA’s current approach of highlighting the positive when challenging criticism is much better than throwing mud.

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