Expand our vax powers, say pharmacists

flu vaccination: the virus close-up in blue

The Health Minister has again urged Australians to get a flu vaccine, as a Pharmacy Guild spokesperson in WA calls for pharmacies to be able to vaccinate children

Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Western Australian branch director Matthew Tweedie has told The West Australian that pharmacists should be able to offer flu vaccination to some children.

Mr Tweedie cited the recent announcement by Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson of the island state’s Winter Demand Management Plan, which allows accredited community pharmacists to offer low-cost flu vaccinations for children aged 10 and over, in a bid to improve accessibility.

“Feedback from pharmacies has been that many parents are expressing frustration that they can’t get the rest of the family done at the same time,” he said.

He also rejected claims by doctors that pharmacist-administered flu vaccines were less safe than those given by doctors.

“Pharmacists are trained to provide the flu vaccine, so it’s no safer in a general practice setting than in a community pharmacy setting,” he told reporter Shannon Hampton.

Commenting on the suggestion, PSA national president Dr Christopher Freeman agreed and told the AJP that PSA has advocated for many years to allow pharmacists to deliver more vaccinations.

“We welcomed the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council’s decision last year to establish a working group to consider a nationally-consistent approach to pharmacist-administered vaccinations,” Dr Freeman said.

“A national approach to pharmacist-administered vaccinations will reduce confusion, ensure better access for patients to quality vaccination services and utilise the pharmacy workforce appropriately.”

Like Mr Tweedie, Dr Freeman also disagreed with doctor group claims around safety.

“Safety concerns aired by the medical profession this week are unfounded and dangerous as they seek to undermine vaccination efforts and trust in pharmacists,” he said.

“Pharmacists are highly-skilled medicine experts and are trained in administering vaccinations, including responding to adverse reactions. Consumers can be confident that they will receive the same high level of care in a community pharmacy that they would in a general practice.

“Research has shown internationally and locally that highly accessible pharmacist vaccination services help boost vaccination rates, contributing to a reduced burden on our already over-burdened healthcare system.”

He pointed out that in Australia, pharmacists have provided vaccinations since 2014, and across all states and territories since 2016.

This has led to “increased vaccination rates against influenza, including many people being vaccinated for the first time,” he said.

“Furthermore, independent research commissioned by PSA has revealed almost two-in-three Australians believe pharmacists should be able to administer a broader range of vaccinations.

“The reduction in the age of pharmacist-administered flu vaccinations in Tasmania is an important step in increasing the number of people vaccinated against the flu. In turn, this will improve herd immunity. PSA would support similar changes which increase consumer access to vaccination in WA and nationwide.

“In many parts of Australia, particularly in regional areas, people may have trouble accessing a GP. In addition, some people do not visit a GP regularly, or do not have a GP.

“Allowing trained pharmacists to vaccinate a larger percentage of the population ensures greater convenience for consumers, meaning more people will be vaccinated this flu season.”

Meanwhile, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has said in a statement that he encourages Australians “to get a flu shot to protect themselves against this year’s influenza virus with vaccines now available at GPs offices and community pharmacies”.

“As at 21 May 2019, over 12.1 million doses of the seasonal influenza vaccines have been released into the market by the Australian Government for the 2019 Australian influenza season,” he said.

“This includes over 7.5 million doses for the National Immunisation Program (NIP) and state and territory government schemes including 3.7 million doses of enhanced vaccines for those aged 65 years and over.

“Last year a record 11 million Australians got a flu shot and I hope that we reach another record this year.”

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