Dose timing essential for COVID-19, flu vaccines

There are two mass vaccination programs running in parallel to one another with some juggling involved, advises Guild leader

Phase 1B of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine program kicked off on Monday 22 March. More than 1,000 general practices joined for this phase, with the number to progressively increase to more than 4,000 clinics by the end of April.

Phase 2A, when community pharmacies are expected to commence administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, is tentatively scheduled to rollout in May 2021.

Pharmacies that submitted an expression of interest to join the COVID-19 vaccination program should have received a response from the Department of Health on or around Friday 19 March, confirmed Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone.

Approximately 4000 pharmacies or so expressed an interest in joining program.

There is a possibility that pharmacies may be brought on in tranches when Phase 2A commences, in the same way general practices will be – although this is yet to be confirmed.

Meanwhile community pharmacies that haven’t received flu vaccination stock already will likely be receiving it “very soon” for the private non-NIP market, said Mr Tassone.

“With regards to this year, the general advice is that if you are not eligible yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, it’s probably a good idea to get the influenza one done,” he said.

“We have two mass vaccination programs running in parallel to one another and, based on advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group of Immunisation (ATAGI), there needs to be a separation of at least two weeks between the influenza vaccination and the COVID-19 vaccination,” he said.

“So we need to separate influenza from COVID-19, and then with regards to the COVID-19 vaccination, there’s two doses and they need to be separated by a certain period depending on which one you get.

“For instance, pharmacies will be administering the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine – two doses that need to be administered at least four weeks apart but ideally 12 weeks apart.

“There is a little bit of juggling there. It’s a good idea that if patients are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, they might as well get their influenza done.”

Mr Tassone reminded pharmacists that from 1 March, it is now mandatory to upload vaccination records to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).

He also urged all pharmacist immunisers to undertake the required Commonwealth online training prior to involvement in the COVID-19 vaccination program.

“There’s about six modules, it’s around about three hours online. While it’s not CPD accredited, you can self record it in your CPD record,” said Mr Tassone.

He added that Victorian staff that are assisting in vaccination activities in the pharmacy, such as non-immuniser pharmacists, intern pharmacists or final year pharmacy students, are required to undertake the Victorian Department of Health online training.

Getting vaccinated yourself

Pharmacy staff, including pharmacists and pharmacy assistants, are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of Phase 1B which commences on 22 March 2021.

“You can make an appointment at your GP to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Mr Tassone.

To demonstrate eligibility, he recommends that pharmacists produce their Ahpra registration and pharmacy assistants provide a letter from their employer on the pharmacy letterhead.

“Just bear in mind, different general practices may have varying levels of capacity and availability of stock. They might be juggling priorities with other eligible patients including patients aged over 70 for instance,” he said.

“You might find with your pharmacy staff that, if they don’t actually get it administered to them as part of Phase 1B, they might end up having it administered to them at the pharmacy from Phase 2A, should they want to and your pharmacy be participating.”

This story was updated on 23 March.

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