Flu vax charges under scrutiny

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

Western Australian pharmacists are not presenting patients with inappropriate charges regarding the flu vaccine, says a Guild spokesperson

An article which appeared in The West Australian on Wednesday criticised pharmacies for asking patients to “fork over cash” for vaccination against the flu.

Journalist Peta Rasdien reported that at Friendlies Chemists, patients who qualified for a free vaccination under the National Immunisation Program are being charged a “pharmacy consultation fee” of $10.

Patients who were not in one of the vulnerable groups who can access flu vaccines under the NIP were charged $19.95, while eligible HBF members could receive the jab without paying, she wrote.

Meanwhile TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacists could charge an “administration fee” for those who qualified, though they let patients know the vaccine could be access free from a GP; TWC pharmacies were also charging $19.95 for those who did not qualify for NIP vaccines.

Pharmacy 777 were telling those who qualified to access it via their GP, and charging $25 for other patients.

Ms Rasdien spoke to an RACGP spokesperson who said that the “overwhelming majority” of GPs bulk billed for flu vaccination, though they could choose not to.

The RACGP spokesperson also said that GPs were more qualified to vaccinate against flu than pharmacists.

Western Australia, Victoria and the ACT all allow NIP flu vaccine stock to be accessed through community pharmacy, and Pharmacy Guild branches in other jurisdictions such as Queensland have called for wider access to NIP vaccines in the community pharmacy channel.

Responding to the article, WA Pharmacy Guild Branch Committee member Anthony Masi told the AJP that the suggestion that the Government was offering free flu shots was misleading.

“The Guild is concerned that the story infers that inappropriate charges are being passed on to the consumer by community pharmacies,” he said.

“The story misses important details regarding what the government is paying for and how this vital service is delivered to the community and why fees are payable.

“The government is providing the NIP vaccine to the public via community pharmacy and GPs and other government agencies. A qualifying patient under the program does not incur the cost of the actual vaccine itself. This is paid for by the government.

“The provision of the GP service (venue/training/cold chain management/staff costs/vaccination materials etc) is paid for by the taxpayer via bulk billing and in some cases additional cost are levied through a gap payment payable by the patient.”

He said that it was important to note that, unlike GPs, community pharmacy has no access to bulk billing as it has no access to the Medical Benefit Scheme.

“It can only recover service costs by charging a fee to the patient,” he said.

“If this vital service is to continue community pharmacy or any provider must be able to afford to provide it.

“The charge is to cover costs – it is not as the article would appear to infer an inappropriate fee for a ‘free service’.”

A spokesperson for the PSA highlighted the benefit of pharmacist vaccination against flu.

“Allowing trained pharmacists to administer vaccines significantly increases the immunisation rates within the community and reduces the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases,” the spokesperson said.

“The administration of vaccines by pharmacists complements the excellent work done by GPs, nurses, Indigenous Health Workers and other healthcare professionals.

“The Australian Government Department of Health advises that vaccines covered by the National Immunisation Program are free for those who are eligible.

“However, while eligible people get the vaccine for free, if the person chooses to have it done by a pharmacist, the pharmacist will charge a consultation fee to administer the vaccine as there is no eligible subsidy from the Government.”

As at the start of 20 May, there have been a total of 51,523 laboratory confirmed notifications of Influenza in Australia.

To date only 2,659 have been notified in Western Australia, while South Australia, at 14,018, has been most affected.

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  1. Michael Dedajic

    This whole talk about pharmacist charges is becoming lunacy. We cant even charge a simple fee for our services without getting into hot water from some group. Im getting customers coming into store demanding what prices they want to pay for scripts but their attitudes are completely different when they go to a different retail. We just have to dig our heels in and get these clowns to realise you can’t get stuff for free.

  2. Bruce ANNABEL

    Community pharmacy offers patients a wonderful convenient and highly accessible service. Vaccinations are one of those and now form part of the standard fabric of the community pharmacy offer with more services to come leveraging the existing pharmacy network. Judging by the data and number of people attracted by the service it is clearly meeting a demand and is highly valued.

  3. Thomas Petrucci

    Those kiosks in shopping centres charge $10 to apply a screen protector, surely we can charge $10 to store, administer and record a vaccination

  4. Tony Lee

    It is worthwhile considering the medicare rebate to the doctor (paid by the taxpayer) when arguing the charge by the pharmacist. It is not ‘free’.

  5. Tim Hewitt

    $10 to vaccinate is a ridiculous giveaway.. Show me how $10 cover costs??
    Current PBS dispensing fee with AHI is more than $10.. so are we saying its cheaper to vaccinate than dispense?? I’m glad I’m not negotiating the next CPA under that model..
    Get some research into the REAL cost of providing this service.. its probably more like $30-$50.. (If not more..)

    • Paul Sapardanis

      With most metro pharmacies making less on non claimabl ere prescriptions then claim able prescriptions I hope this isn’t used against us in the 7cpa negotiations.


    Pharmacy is an absolute, embarrassing mess at present. There is a huge disconnect between the truly professional pharmacists and those that seek to degrade the profession for their own profit by discounting. I’m looking at the various head offices and big, profit-seeking bosses of such banner groups here!
    Pharmacists on the frontline constantly have to deal with ridiculous price-matching requests. Do you go to a petrol station and ask them to price-match something so basic as fuel that you have to pump yourself?
    My advice: don’t bother becoming vaccination accredited as an employee unless you are remunerated appropriately for taking the extra risk and responsilbities therein.
    Community pharmacy needs a serious overhaul to ensure its desireability as a profession and ensure its ultimate success.

    • Paul Sapardanis

      The race to the bottom is now tiring. Below cost vaccinations, $1 NDSS free bp tests DAA’s deliveries, when will it all end? I was asked to price match a product that was ordered in because customer couldn’t find it elsewhere??? Let us price our professional services appropriately.

  7. Nicholas Logan

    The saddest part of the story is the continuous dodgy assault on our profession by AMA and RACGP. Imagine if the Pharmacy Guild worked 24/7 to dishonestly slag them off to main stream media. No mention that the doctors get the vaccine for free and charge for the service through MBS. The solution is pharmacists claiming on MBS for each vaccine.

  8. Anthony Tassone

    There are challenges in the public messaging due to pharmacist inability to charge our universal health insurance scheme, Medicare, for the provision of delivery of a vaccination service to patients eligible to access the National Immunisation Program.

    The public hear statements such as ‘government funded vaccine’ – and would assume they should access it at no charge irrespective which competent and authorised health profession is able to do so.

    This is remembering that pharmacists are one of the few if only health profession groups without Medicare billing rights.

    It is time to address this.

    A flu vaccination given to a patient eligible under the NIP will have the same effectiveness whether it is a GP, nurse or trained pharmacist immuniser. The clinical outcome would be the same. Therefore, why is one health professional excluded from Medicare billing rights?

    As part of a broader clinical governance framework there is no reason why pharmacists cannot be given direct billing rights to Medicare for delivery of vaccination services.

    It is not up to the RACGP or any other health profession group to deem themselves ‘more qualified’ to deliver a health service. It is a matter for our regulatory board, the Pharmacy Board to deem whether it is within our scope of practice, the government to determine whether laws should be passed to allow it and the public as to whether they accept it. All of the above have been ticked off.

    As a health system, if we’re genuine about ‘patient centred care’ and equity of access, then pharmacists must be given billing rights to administer vaccinations.

    Anthony Tassone
    President, Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Victoria Branch)

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