Vaccine safe in pharmacists’ ‘very, very cold’ hands

Prime Minister Scott Morrison receives his vaccine. Image courtesy Scott Morrison via Twitter.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison receives his vaccine. Image courtesy Scott Morrison via Twitter.

As Australia celebrates its first COVID-19 vaccinations, the rollout is showcasing pharmacists’ skills, say stakeholders

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and a small group of health professionals, including pharmacists, are among the first Australians to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Aged care resident Jane Malysiak, 84, from Marayong New South Wales, was the first person in Australia to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Pharmacists working in Victoria’s COVID-19 hubs are among the first frontline health workers to be immunised against COVID-19 today ahead of going into quarantine hotels to support the workforce vaccination program this week.

Mr Morrison was vaccinated on Sunday – ahead of the initial rollout on Monday – with others, later telling journalists at a press conference that, “tens of thousands of people will be coming in tomorrow and I wanted them to know as they went to bed tonight that we have been able to demonstrate our confidence in the health and safety of this vaccination to let them know that it’s good to go”.

“I call on my fellow Australians and I have by my own example today, joined by the Chief Nurse, and the Chief Medical Officer of our country, together with those Australians who are in the top priority of this vaccination program, to say to you, Australians, it’s safe, it’s important. Join us on this Australian path that sees us come out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Hospital pharmacists have been integral to the process.

“It’s so exciting from a hospital pharmacy perspective to have hospital pharmacists at the centre of something so integral; to showcase medicines safety in this way for all of Australia is so incredibly exciting,” said Kristin Michaels, chief executive of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia.

“For hospital pharmacists to be at the centre of something that’s now so essential for all Australians – we’re really thrilled.”

Ms Michaels told the AJP that the logistics of rolling out the vaccine showcases the skills of pharmacists.

“They’re responsible for stewardship of the vaccine. We had those beautiful pictures of the vaccines being unloaded from Qantas last night; being unloaded onto the hospital docks, where hospital pharmacists are taking them into their not-so-hot little hands: their very, very cold hands!

“They’re stewarding it from those doors through the hospital, and effectively managing it at that point; and going out with doctors and nurses who are popping it into the arms of the first people to get it, such as the Prime Minister yesterday.

“Hospital pharmacists are accountable for it being managed all the way through that cold chain storage. So it really is a very key role, and we’re incredibly proud that it’s hospital pharmacists playing that role.”

Jane Malysiak receives Australia's first COVID-19 vaccine. Image courtesy Scott Morrison via Twitter.
Jane Malysiak receives Australia’s first COVID-19 vaccine. Image courtesy Scott Morrison via Twitter.

Ms Michaels said that hospital pharmacists and technicians have been tirelessly preparing for their crucial role for months, to ensure that safety and efficacy remain central to Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination effort.

“After spending months preparing for their central role in the safe and secure administration of the biggest vaccination program in history, we are now seeing many examples of the great work of pharmacists and technicians across Australia as they deftly co-ordinate the ultra-low temperature storage, supply and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines; and undertake the thawing, diluting, preparing and drawing-up vaccine doses.

“Sixteen hospitals – all of which are staffed by SHPA Members – are involved in the Phase 1a roll-out this week, which will see the vaccination of hotel Quarantine workers, border force workers, hospital workers in intensive care units, emergency departments, and those in aged care.”

Mainstream media have reported on pharmacists’ role in the rollout, including The Age, which focused on Dr Erica Tong, deputy director of pharmacy at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

Reporter Sumeyya Ilanbey outlined how Dr Tong and colleagues have been preparing for the rollout.

“Everyone’s been preparing for quite some time, so I think [there’s a general sense of] excitement that it’s finally here,” Dr Tong told The Age.

“We’ve been simulating everything from when the vaccine arrives to loading it into the freezer … so the end-to-end process, including reconstituting with vials of saline, drawing up, labelling, and there’s been full simulation in our [vaccination] clinic space as well that the pharmacists have been involved in and how that will run.”

The ABC reported on how pharmacist-in charge of the Northern Territory’s rollout, Bhavini Patel, is working with her team to ensure no doses are wasted.


“We’ll have a catch-up list of people who are either on campus here or that we can call who are on standby, to make sure that we don’t waste a single dose,” Ms Patel said.

And on Friday, Channel Nine News reported on a meeting between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and pharmacist Branko Radojkovic, who demonstrated the preparation of a simulated vaccine at the  Sydney Local health district vaccination hub in Camperdown, Sydney.

On Saturday pharmacy director Professor Michael Dooley, immediate past president of the SHPA, told The Age that around 60 or 70 nurses and pharmacists would be among the first Australians to receive the vaccine on Monday.

“We’ll be sending [the vials] in a special esky that goes over to the hotels,” he said. “It’s got special monitors in it, so we can track the temperatures.”

The Pharmaceutical Society welcomed the news of the rollout’s beginnings, with PSA National President Associate Professor Chris Freeman saying  pharmacists across Australia are excited by the first doses being administered today.

“Australia’s health response to the pandemic has been led by expert scientific health advice, and our national COVID-19 vaccination strategy is no different,” A/Prof Freeman said.

“All Australians can have confidence in the safety and effectiveness of approved COVID-19 vaccines which will be administered by competent, well-trained vaccinators, including pharmacists.”

PSA highlighted its work with the Australian Government as well state and territory health departments in preparing for today’s roll-out.

This includes consultation to support recent regulatory milestones, including:

  • Victoria has issued a Public Health Emergency Order providing approval for pharmacists and nurse immunisers to administer COVID-19 vaccines;
  • South Australia has issued approval for pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccine; and
  • The Northern Territory Parliament passed regulations last week to allow all authorised immunisers, including pharmacists, to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

These jurisdictions join Queensland in authorising pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccines. PSA says that it will continue to inform members as other states and territories update their regulations.

It says pharmacists have shown enthusiasm in the COVID-19 vaccinator workforce.

“Around 1,000 pharmacist registered for a PSA COVID-19 webinar last week – keen to learn how they can support the COVID-19 vaccine roll out, and stand willing and able to protect the Australia community against this awful disease,” A/Prof Freeman said.

“PSA will continue to support the profession through the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, including training more pharmacists to become vaccinators, maintaining our leading COVID-19 microsite and working with governments around the country to ensure the roll-out reaches as many Australians as possible.”

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