“Grateful” patients line up for Covid-19 vaccination at community pharmacies as rollout gains momentum
On Friday, Narromine Pharmacy in Narromine, a town located around 450km north-west of Sydney, began administering the first of many AstraZeneca vaccinations as part of the pilot program for rural pharmacies.
They were one of the first pharmacies of around 20 in rural and regional NSW to get started.
“Demand for vaccinations has been incredible,” pharmacist Sara McCarthy told AJP.
“The local doctor surgery has an extensive waiting time as it is for general appointments, so they decided to opt out of providing Covid vaccinations. Therefore the community’s only other option was to travel 40km to Dubbo.”
Ms McCarthy, who works alongside pharmacy owner Felicity Roberts, said the pharmacy’s appointments were booked out a month before the AstraZeneca vaccines even arrived.
“Our vaccines arrived earlier than we had anticipated, so as soon as they arrived we opened up extra appointments and started vaccinating the following day with the help of an immunising nurse who had reached out to us expressing her interest in vaccinating our local community,” she said.
“Getting the vaccines was a straightforward process, they were easy to order and arrived earlier than expected.
We were completely booked out with only one days’ notice.
“Our uptake of the vaccination was higher than I had originally anticipated and the ordering of additional vaccines was not a problem.
“As far as preparing the vaccines, we follow the Guild’s protocol. We draw up at the beginning of the day and again at lunch time to ensure efficiency for the vaccinator while maintaining storage requirements for the vaccine.”
She said the first day of vaccination went “incredibly well”.
“We saw many of our regular patients present as well as some new patients which were welcomed with open arms. We were completely booked out with only one days’ notice. We were very happy with the implementation of the service,” said Ms McCarthy.
“Our patients are so grateful for the opportunity to have their vaccinations at the local pharmacy. We have had great feedback and a larger than anticipated uptake of vaccinations just shows how needed this service is and how pharmacies are in a prime position to be able to rollout such an important vaccination program.”
The team at Capital Chemist Braidwood, located around 300km south of Sydney in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, also began administering the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccination on Friday.
Natasha Jovanoska, one of the pharmacists in charge, told AJP that they’ve been vaccinating on specific days, but the response has been positive.
“We’ve been doing clinic days because we’re a rural country pharmacy, we don’t always have two pharmacists on,” she said.
“We’ve had about 20 people each day so far, it’s been really good, the response has been quite positive. And we’ve got lots of warm fuzzies from people who appreciate we’ve been able it do it for them.
“Most of the people we’ve had have called in to book with us, although we’ve had a few booked with us through the vaccination online booking eligibility checker. There’s been a few people that have some concerns because of AstraZeneca, so they get a bit worried about the blood clots but after you have a chat with them they’re usually alright.
“There’s not any extra concerns with [the 40-60 years age group], but you’ve got to cover a more thorough consult with them because their risk is slightly higher than those aged 60 and over,” she said.
Ms Jovanoska said it’s the paperwork that has added the biggest load.
“With the vaccines, from the day you order them, it takes about a week and a half to two weeks to get them. The thing that takes the longest is getting all the paperwork so far.
“You have to have policies and procedures written up before you start so you really know what you’re doing, there’s a lot of paperwork involved with covid vaccination.”
A further 1,250 pharmacies will soon be activated to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine across NSW including in Sydney.
South Australia, Victoria join rollout
Meanwhile community pharmacists in South Australia have also begun vaccinating.
Robyn Johns was among the first handful of community pharmacists vaccinating patients in Littlehampton from Monday.
“It was wonderful to be on the frontline today, immunising the Littlehampton community against COVID-19 – but disappointingly, pharmacist involvement in the rollout is still incredibly limited,” said Ms Johns, who is the PSA SA Branch President.
“Data shows that 43% of Australians over the age of 50 years still haven’t had their first dose yet and local pharmacists can bridge this immunisation gap.
“As evidenced here in the pharmacy today, local pharmacists can target at-risk Australians, particularly the elderly who may be hesitant to commute to or queue at these hubs for extended periods of time,” she said.
“Littlehampton is about 30 to 40 minutes away from Adelaide’s CBD, and given the close proximity to the state’s capital city, why can’t metropolitan pharmacists play their part?
“We already have a skilled, trusted, experienced, and easily accessible vaccinator workforce at governments’ disposal – so we must activate them now.”
Eight regional pharmacies in Victoria commenced administration this week, with seven outer metropolitan pharmacies soon to be activated.
“The Guild continues to work closely with the Departments of Health at a State and Commonwealth level to see the activation of as many pharmacies as possible that have been deemed suitable through the EOI process earlier this year as soon as possible,” Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone told AJP.
Mr Tassone added, “The Guild has a clear and consistent view that there needs to be activation of pharmacies across the country including metropolitan areas, with our two largest cities currently in lockdown.”
Some other states have already kicked off their role in the vaccination rollout over the past month.
Fifteen pharmacies in the Northern Territory, spread across Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Darwin, Palmerston and rural areas, started vaccinating a week ago.
However Alice Springs Pharmacy pharmacist manager Anandh Vijayan said the uptake has been really slow for them.
“We’re having trouble getting people scheduled at the same time, we’re trying not to waste vials as well, there’s very few people who are interested in doing it. The people who are wanting to get it are usually travellers who are passing through and looking for a second jab,” he told AJP.
“I think we’re a bit late especially in Alice Springs for the AstraZeneca, a lot of people are moreso interested in getting the Pfizer vaccine. But people over the aged of 60 who wanted to receive the vaccination, most have already received them through the vaccination centres and through GPs.
“There’s also a phobia of receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine,” said Mr Vijayan.
“If pharmacies would have taken up this role much earlier, we can’t really tell the future but we could have avoided a lot more lockdowns if we got the population vaccinated faster.”