“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.”
— Anthony Tassone (@A_Tass1) April 24, 2021
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.