Only three states and territories currently allow community pharmacies to access the NIP
Extending the access of community pharmacies in all States and Territories to vaccines under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) should be a priority in maintaining the health and wellbeing of all Australians, said the Pharmacy Guild of Australia in a recent statement.
At present only Victoria, the ACT and WA can administer NIP vaccines following successful pilot programs.
Pharmacies in other States and Territories currently need to vaccinate using stock from the private market.
Last year community pharmacies administered approximately three million flu shots, and studies (see here and here) have shown that community pharmacy vaccination leads people to get vaccinated who would not otherwise have done so.
The Guild argues that NIP access for all States and Territories will increase pharmacy access to those who are eligible, for example, teenagers, older Australians and people of all ages who are at greater risk of serious harm from certain diseases such as heart disease or severe asthma.
Pharmacists who are appropriately trained and approved are able to deliver influenza vaccines to people aged 10 and over.
Pharmacy Guild national president Trent Twomey argued “there was no logical reason” for the remaining States and Territories to be lagging their counterparts in providing access to NIP vaccines.
“The effectiveness of NIP vaccine access to pharmacists in Victoria, WA and ACT shows just how successful, and acceptable to patients, the program is,” he said.
“Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals, and pharmacies are open extended hours, so it is essential that we utilise these factors in making access to vaccines easier for eligible NIP patients.”
Professor Twomey reiterated that NIP access will mean over 65 year olds will be able to receive free influenza vaccines from their local pharmacy.
However while the vaccines are free, immunisers are able to charge an administration fee.
The Guild called on the Queensland, New South Wales, South Australian, Northern Territory and Tasmanian Governments to act immediately to enable pharmacist access to NIP vaccines in their jurisdictions.
From about 2015, beginning in SA and WA, community pharmacy vaccination has since accelerated nationwide as the profession proved its ability to participate effectively in the scheme.
Meanwhile access to NIP may provide further benefits and support.
In the ACT, for example, supplies of vaccines under the NIP have already been delivered to all immunisers including pharmacies, said the Guild.
“With COVID-19, the need for protection against the flu is more important than ever. While the flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, it can help ward off the flu and so maintain better health which is so important in these COVID-19 times,” it said.
“Community or herd immunity is boosted by the more people who are vaccinated, and the concept has gained traction since community pharmacies have been allowed to deliver flu vaccinations.
“Being able to walk in off the street and have a flu shot has seen a huge boost in the numbers of people vaccinated. Apart from not having to wait for an appointment at their GP, many Australians have found the convenience of pharmacy vaccinations have prompted them to have a flu shot for the first time.
“It makes a lot of sense, therefore, to extend the availability of NIP vaccines to pharmacies across all of Australia,” said the Guild.
“Some community pharmacies reported last year that the access of pharmacies is so appealing that some patients who were eligible for NIP vaccines opted to pay at a pharmacy simply because it was so much easier and more convenient,” it added.
“It has also emerged anecdotally that many people eligible for vaccines under the NIP were unaware of this [and were] informed by the pharmacists. Spreading this information is important and the community pharmacy network of some 5,900 pharmacies across the country providing NIP vaccines and educating their communities about their availability and eligibility under the NIP is a sound health initiative.
“Any access to vaccines is welcomed and beneficial to the public, but it is logical that uniformity across all jurisdictions will ensure greater converge which in turn will reduce reported cases of the flu and subsequent costs to the health system.”