Flu vaccine: why aren’t pharmacists recognised?

Pharmacist administers a vaccine. Source: PSA.
Pharmacist administers a vaccine. Source: PSA.

Flu vaccines have been expanded under the NIP, with free vaccines for more children and a quadrivalent for seniors added – but in most jurisdictions, pharmacy still has no NIP access

The Department of Health has issued new advice for vaccination providers, outlining changes to the flu vaccine for the 2020 season.

“To meet the anticipated demand for seasonal influenza vaccines in 2020, the Australian Government will be securing the largest ever supply of seasonal influenza vaccines,” the Department of Health said in a statement this week.

“These are provided through the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for people most at risk. NIP vaccines will be available in April, subject to local supply arrangements.”

Updates for 2020 include that all people aged six months to less than five years will now be eligible for free flu vaccines under the NIP this year.

This year Australia is the first country to offer an adjuvanted Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine (QIV) – Fluad Quad. This is available for people aged 65 years and over.

Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild, Anthony Tassone, told the AJP that in 2019, a record 13 million-plus Australians were vaccinated against influenza, with more than two million being vaccinated in pharmacy.

“Given the fantastic success of the pharmacist immunisation program across the country, it makes little sense to withhold availability of the National Immunisation Stock from community pharmacy in all jurisdictions,” he said.

In the last two weeks both Queensland and NSW have moved to allow accredited pharmacists to vaccinate children as young as 10 against flu.

“This is good news for the Australian public, and for patients it means more people have more choice in how they can best protect themselves against the flu – and that pharmacists are spending less time saying to families, ‘We’re happy to help vaccinate Mum and Dad, sorry kids, you need to go elsewhere’,” Mr Tassone said.

He called for flu vaccines to be made available under the NIP around the country.

“From my own personal experience, there are patients aged over 65 who are entitled to be able to get a flu vaccination under the NIP at no charge from their doctor, but some choose to still pay the admin fee and receive it from a community pharmacy,” he said.

This demonstrated the value some people place on convenience, he said.

“However why should they have to be faced with that choice when our universal health scheme, being Medicare, should be able to recognise pharmacists in being able to deliver these vaccinations as part of the NIP, and should be remunerated and recognised as such.”

The Government has advised that the four strains included in this year’s flu vaccine are:

  • A (H1N1): an A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • A (H3N2): an A/South Australia/34/2019 (H3N2)-like virus;
  • B: a B/Washington/02/2019-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus;
  • B: a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus.

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