Going the extra mile

A pharmacist is taking COVID-19 vaccines on the road to boost rates in his region, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation

A pharmacist located in the southernmost town in South Australia is taking COVID-19 vaccination to surrounding towns, with hopes to boost rates and encourage other pharmacists to “go the extra mile”.

Amir Hanna, proprietor of Port MacDonnell Pharmacy, said he has been taking bookings from surrounding towns that don’t have other ways of accessing the vaccine.

The District Council of Grant is the southernmost council in South Australia.

Located about half an hour’s drive south of Mount Gambier and 20 minutes from the Victorian border, the pharmacy is situated within the District Council of Grant, which has one the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates across the country, according to the government’s latest report.

Just over 20% of the LGA’s 7,000 residents have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and only 11.5% have received dose two.

Meanwhile across the state, 70% of eligible people have received their first dose and over 50% their second dose.

Mr Hanna hopes to make one positive step towards addressing the slow uptake in the Grant LGA, after new rules brought in last week mean community pharmacies can now administer doses off-site under certain requirements, allowing them to access more people.

Pharmacies located in regional, rural and remote (MM 2-7) locations may administer vaccinations at off-site locations within a 100km radius of the pharmacy premises, while metropolitan pharmacies may administer off-site vaccinations within a 10km radius.

“Some pharmacists don’t know they are able to do that. They have to be approved first, they have to apply to do vaccination off-site and meet the criteria,” Mr Hanna told the AJP.

COVID-19 vaccination rates as of 4 October 2021. Source: Australian Government

“That will be the only option for the little towns that don’t have a pharmacy or vaccination hub or anything like that, and it will be great for people who can’t physically leave their home, for example a disabled person or the very elderly who can’t get out to get vaccinated,” he said.

“We started to take bookings for the towns around the areas that don’t have those facilities.”

Mr Hanna said he will be travelling to surrounding towns including Carpenter Rocks, Donovans on the Victorian border, and a town called Tarpeena located around 50km away from his pharmacy, to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

He will be offering both doses for Moderna, as well as second doses of AstraZeneca to interested residents.

But under the rules, he is limited to vaccinating within his state of South Australia only.

“We have a cross-border community in a place called Nelson in Victoria. We are the nearest pharmacy to them, but I’m not allowed to travel over there to vaccinate them because they’re in Victoria,” he said.

“But they can cross the border to us and get vaccinated here.”

Mr Hanna, who has owned Port MacDonnell Pharmacy for more than 10 years, also predicts that rates will start to increase in the region now that people over 60 are allowed to access Moderna.

“Things have changed a lot the last two weeks … we have seen big increase in the number of people who want to have the vaccine,” he said.

“We’re doing maybe double the rate of vaccination that we used to do before that. A lot of people over 60 were waiting to get a vaccine other than AstraZeneca, and once the rule has changed and they are eligible now to get it, they get it in very high numbers.

“When they do the statistics again it will be a very different story.”

Meanwhile, as Mr Hanna prepares to hit the road, he urges pharmacists to continue working to get as many people as possible vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I hope this encourages other people to go the extra mile and help as well. I hope everybody who wants to have the vaccine is able to get one.”

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