‘Can you imagine when the COVID-19 vaccine comes out?’

Pharmacist administers a vaccine. Source: PSA.
Pharmacist administers a vaccine. Source: PSA.

A “massive clause” about vaccination in the 7CPA means that moves to grant pharmacists access to the National Immunisation Program will shift up a gear

A clause in the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement supporting pharmacist vaccination, its harmonisation and access to the NIP, was “one of the easiest clauses” for the Guild to encourage the Government to agree to, says Guild national president George Tambassis.

The 7CPA was signed in Canberra last week and the full document released on Thursday night.

A section covering pharmacists administering vaccines highlights that the Government and the Pharmacy Guild both “consider it desirable that a nationally consistent approach be adopted in relation to appropriately trained registered pharmacists administering vaccines included on the National Immunisation Program Schedule, as appropriate”.

It also notes that the two “believe that there may be improved health outcomes for Australians if the arrangements for pharmacists administering vaccines are harmonised across Australia”.

“The Australian Government intends to support, via the Council of Australian Governments Health Council (or equivalent body between Commonwealth, State and Territory Health Ministers), the adoption of a nationally consistent approach in respect of the vaccines that may be administered by appropriately trained registered pharmacists,” it says.

It also outlines that, “the Australian Government and the Guild support the development of the 10 Year Primary Health Care Plan” and says the Health Department will “provide twice yearly updates to the Guild on the progress of the arrangements described in this clause”.

“For the first time ever in my experience, and I’ve read all the Agreements, we’ve got a massive clause in there around vaccination,” Mr Tambassis told reporters, “not only making everything uniform across the states and territories, but also fully supportive of access into the NIP in every state and territory.

“That was one of the easiest clauses to get them to agree to, because they want uniform access and administration to vaccines across every state and territory, and one of the big bug bears in states that haven’t got access to NIP is why?

“At the moment it’s only Victoria, the ACT and WA in a small amount. Everyone else is saying – why not us?”

He praised the work of NSW Guild president David Heffernan, who has been pushing the state Government for NIP access for pharmacists for some time.

“I back him 100%, the biggest state in the country hasn’t got access to NIP through pharmacy which is just crazy.

“They know we’re not happy, it’s a matter of keeping advocating on.

“So we’ve certainly put a massive supportive clause in there that both the Federal Government and the Guild have signed off on, so we’re hoping that’ll make things happen a bit faster.”

This process will take place via the new National Cabinet Health Committee, and Mr Tambassis said he hoped that harmonised NIP access would be implemented in the near future.

“Can you imagine when the COVID-19 vaccine comes out?” Mr Tambassis said.

“It might be on the NIP for example, and Victorians might get access to this free vaccine, but no, if you live in Sydney you’ve got to pay more.

“It’d be crazy if they don’t sort that out sometime soon.

Chris Freeman, national president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia – also a signatory to the 7CPA – said that the PSA has been working on harmonised vaccination for some time, as well as pharmacist-delivered medicines via injection beyond immunisation.

The 7CPA clause is “an acknowledgement that there are some states that currently either by a pilot or a trial are in some cases having it implemented, do allow pharmacists to access the NIP for immunisation,” he said.

“And I think that that does create inequity depending on where the person lives and the access to their medicines.

“So that is certainly one aspect of it. But there are many other aspects in terms of the regulatory barriers that still persist in some states and territories around this topic.

“And broadening the roles of pharmacists in delivering immunisations and I think something that has been earmarked has been around travel medicine, for example, and the unique opportunity that provides pharmacy to be better engaged with that specific health need and again that extends beyond just the immunisations to other types of medicines that can be delivered by pharmacists by injection.”

Mr Tambassis said that the general public is keen to have wider vaccination access from pharmacists, and that “you can’t go against what patients want, and it’s choice as well.

“The more choice you have in getting administration of vaccine the better it is. It should be up to the patients to choose.

He said that Health Minister Greg Hunt had been able to observe the significant takeup of flu vaccination in pharmacy, particularly as during the COVID-19 pandemic there have been concerns about dual infection, and about reducing flu rates to keep people out of hospital.

The Guild wants the range of vaccines available through pharmacy to be as “broad as possible,” he said.

“Most pharmacists want access to all vaccines.

“When I did the vaccination course to update my skills, I didn’t learn only about the influenza vaccine, I learned about all the vaccines.

“So I’m trained to vaccinate with any vaccine that’s on the market, but at the moment in Victoria, there’s only two that I’ve got access to which is crazy.”

He said that after spending time in Canada, particularly Alberta, during the last two or three years he had been impressed with his Canadian colleagues and their ability to offer “all the vaccines”.

This is “very well received in that country,” he said, agreeing that pharmacists could help address the concerns some people have about vaccination, including anti-vaccination sentiment arising from COVID-19.

“So I can’t understand why pharmacists with similar qualifications if not exactly the same, can’t do the same in this country?

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