‘First step’ for jab in WA

One stakeholder is pinning down three key challenges in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines through WA community pharmacy, as the state legislates to enable pharmacy access

Legislation changes in Western Australia will enable pharmacies to take part in the COVID-19 Phase 2a vaccination program when the rollout commences, expected to be from May 2021.

The Australian Government will facilitate the supply of doses to community pharmacies selected to participate in the rollout and provide payment per vaccination delivered, as well as providing vaccine-specific training and access to the National Booking System.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, WA branch’s Matt Tweedie told the AJP that the organisation welcomed the move as a “first step” and is in close negotiation with the Health Department about flexible options, “to ensure we achieve a maximum number of vaccines that we can in this state”.

“This includes flexible options around location, workforce and capacity,” he said. “We’re involved in weekly meetings, along with the Department, to ensure that the community pharmacy sector can utilise its network to provide access to the million Western Australians we see every week.”

He said the Guild thanked the Premier, Mark McGowan, and Health Minister Roger Cook for their support and their interest in “ensuring that community pharmacy is part of planning this once in 100-year event”.

“We look forward to contributing to the safety and health of all West Australians,” Mr Tweedie said.

“We’ve identified three issues that impact on the logistics of the rollout of this campaign: supply, workforce and space.

“All of these things need to be worked through, and we anticipate in increase in stock as Australia manufactures and distributes its own supply.”

The rollout of initial stages has seen some challenges to date countrywide, with GPs reporting the arrival of significantly fewer vaccines than they had expected.

Mr Tweedie also noted that Western Australia has particular challenges to face, given its size and population distribution.

“Community pharmacy in Western Australia provides a safe, professional, accessible vaccine service to the largest health jurisdiction in the world, and has done so successfully since 2015,” he said.

“Over the years, the community has come to expect access to immunisation services in community pharmacy, and we look forward to working with Government to expand that access, especially in rural and remote areas.

“We feel that we’re the solution in many of the remote areas of WA, especially the Pilbara, the Kimberley, the north-west, the eastern goldfields… we’re a massively big state with a population spread thinly once you’re outside Perth.

“It takes collaboration and integration and use of all your health assets to provide services to this state. Community pharmacy is a pillar of the primary health care system in WA, and this is further evidence that that’s the case.”

He also noted that expressions of interest are now in, and the Guild is “awaiting the Federal Government’s response to the EOI process, and encourage and urge them to facilitate this as soon as possible”.

PSA WA President Dr Fei Sim also welcomed the Government’s legislation changes, saying pharmacists have an important role to play in ensuring the WA community received their vaccinations across the State in a safe and secure process.

She noted  that participating community pharmacists will have responsibility for operations on their own premises, including:

  • on-site storage and administration of the vaccine;
  • ensuring availability of an adequately skilled workforce; and
  • taking all reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the minimum site requirements.

Dr Sim said the Structured Administration and Supply Arrangement (SASA), authorises health practitioners in pharmacies to administer or supply a medicine to any patient meeting the specified circumstances. A SASA means that a separate prescription or written direction to use the medicine is not required for each individual patient.

The SASA agreement covers pharmacists (or nurses) in section 90 pharmacies to administer TGA-registered COVID-19 vaccine products (except Pfizer-BioNTech) for Phase 2a.

Interns that have completed their immunisation and COVID-19 training can vaccinate under the direct supervision of a pharmacist (also immunisation and COVID-19 trained).

“Community pharmacies who do not participate in Phase 2a may still be involved in later phases of the vaccine rollout,” Dr Sim said.

“All community pharmacies who meet requirements have the opportunity to participate in the vaccine rollout as more vaccines become available.”

Dr Sim also reminded pharmacy practices that pharmacy students and pharmacy assistants may assist with consent and paperwork, but cannot administer the vaccine.

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