Overwhelmed GPs are sending their patients over to community pharmacies to get vaccinated for COVID-19, as one owner calls out the turf war and “senseless rules” applied to pharmacists
The demand for pharmacy COVID-19 vaccinations has been overwhelming and patients have been “so grateful” to get protected, says pharmacist Alex Papadimitriou.
Mr Papadimitriou is the proprietor of Harpers Pharmacy in Earlwood, which is located in the Canterbury-Bankstown LGA—one of the 12 hardest hit LGAs in Sydney.
Harpers Pharmacy is the top-performing pharmacy on the MedAdvisor platform, closing in on 2,000 AstraZeneca vaccinations less than one month since it administered its first dose.
NSW is spearheading the pharmacy rollout, with the state’s pharmacies administering more than half of all pharmacy vaccinations for COVID-19 across the country, according to the latest numbers from MedAdvisor, which supports about 75% of Australia’s pharmacies.
The numbers have increased dramatically, with pharmacies across the board reporting more than 10,000 vaccinations in one day.
There have been more than 80,000 vaccinations done through the MedAdvisor network in August so far.
“We did our very first vaccination on 25 July. We ended up doing six on the first day, 53 the next day, and this rapidly increased to over 100 per day,” Mr Papadimitriou told AJP.
People of all ages and cultural backgrounds have been attending the pharmacy for vaccination, through both bookings and walk-ins.
“We’ve vaccinated many 18 year olds right through to our oldest who was a 100-year-and-nine-month-old gentleman,” he said.
“You might wonder why a 100 year old would be vaccinated in pharmacy rather than anywhere else? The reason is convenience. He is not particularly mobile and so the family would rather find a carpark in front of my pharmacy, wheel him in 20 or 30 metres from the car, than the hassle of getting him into the general practice or taking him into a hub.
“Similarly, we’re vaccinating many people with intellectual disabilities, autism and other conditions that mean they don’t cope with big areas, crowds and having to wait for too long. They can come in when it’s relatively quiet and the convenience is incredible.
“We’ve had a lot of oldies – Greeks, Italians, Lebanese. They’re not necessarily against vaccination but actively seeking it out is not exactly on their radar. Often their kids bring them in or they see the pharmacy provides it, these people are unlikely to want to travel to hubs or outside their area,” said Mr Papadimitriou.
“The last 10 days there’s been an awful lot of tradies. Tradies can go wherever but the truth is, they want the convenience of somewhere local.
For many people going to Homebush is very difficult, public transport is not operating as it normally does, so the convenience of pharmacy has really come to the fore.
However the payment scheme has affected the ability of the pharmacy to administer even more vaccines.
“We have pulled it back a little bit simply because the payment for it is so poor that if you offer the service for extended hours or on weekends you lose money. My preference would have been to just put on more staff if we could afford to, I would have been happy vaccinating until 10pm – but it becomes very expensive.
“What doesn’t make sense is the government is paying pharmacists less than half of what they are paying GPs for the same service, especially when you consider the extended hours we are open.”
Despite the fiscal challenges, Mr Papadimitriou is happy to be part of the pandemic solution.
“I’m very pleased to be doing it, as far as the regard people have for pharmacy, this has been the best thing. People have been so grateful and so pleased,” he said.
“Overwhelmingly there’s been just lovely, lovely stuff people have said in terms of emails I’ve received, reviews and people just coming in and being so happy and thankful and relived that they’re getting some protection.”
Pharmacy joining the rollout has also reduced pressure on the local GPs in the area.
“A lot of doctors don’t have the capacity to do the vaccinations so they’re sending us patients. This idea that doctors and pharmacists don’t closely co-operate and support each other is wrong,” said Mr Papadimitriou.
“We have four practices sending us their AZ patients [because they can’t cope], we’ve also had doctors come in to get their second shots.
“We get on very well with general practice, we were asked to help a practice in the city whose business was down 70% due to the lockdown and so was focusing on vaccination.
“At one point they had 400 bookings for AZ but no vaccine. The lady running the practice was just about in tears. I gave her 500 doses of vaccine—you’re allowed to do that, and we’re all part of the same team.
“I’ve had to be tenacious to get enough stock. I ended up having a good supply of vaccine and that’s how I was able to give this practice 500 doses. We can get along with the doctors.”
However Mr Papadimitriou suggested that community pharmacy hasn’t been considered fairly when it comes to the rollout, especially compared to other vaccination environments.
“There are a number or arbitrary and senseless rules that apply to us. Intern pharmacists who are fully trained immunisers are not allowed to vaccinate in NSW, but a second-year pharmacy student with no previous training or experience is currently employed at a hub administering vaccinations,” he said.
“My intern has given dozens of flu shots, why can’t she give a COVID shot? To me, this is a waste of the workforce we have and a bit of an insult to our profession.
“There’s also a rule in the NSW immunisation standards that you have to take note of the name of the patient’s GP. Why does it matter? It’s going into the AIR, if a GP is interested in a patient’s vaccination history they can easily look it up just like we do.
“This extra information they are getting us to record is useless, there is not even a place on the consent form we are required to use for that information to go. Is it just to ensure we know our place?”