‘How much did doctors’ lobbying influence the initial shape of the rollout?’

All eligible pharmacies will now be able to take part in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout – but one pundit asks why were they shut out from the start

Pharmacy Guild national president Trent Twomey sent an urgent announcement to members on Friday letting them know of an Australian Government move to simplify and accelerate the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations.

This means that all pharmacies assessed as eligible will now be able to take part in the national immunisation effort. There will be no more tranches utilised.

Greater Melbourne is now considered a COVID hotspot, as Victoria entered its sixth lockdown to date on Friday.

Meanwhile NSW’s hotspot was expanded to include the Hunter Valley, and the South East Queensland lockdown was extended to 4pm Sunday 8 August.

The Pharmacy Guild said that the current lockdowns are different because this time, vaccines are available.

Under the accelerated and simplified rollout, 3,500 pharmacies will have more vaccines in their fridges and be able to vaccinate more Australians within a week.

“With pharmacists now fully engaged, we have real hope for faster availability of vaccinations,” Mr Twomey said.

Further Government advice is being distributed now to pharmacists and extra vaccine doses will be made available through pharmacies in a matter of days, Mr Twomey said.

“We are principally concerned to maintain the good health of Australians, but there are also huge economic and social benefits now directly ahead of us,” he said. 

“As the Reserve Bank has made clear today, the quicker everyone gets vaccinated the less economic damage we will incur, and the faster we can open up.

“The message is now more important than ever: If you are over 18, get the vaccine.”

One pundit wanted to know why pharmacists were left out in the first place, wondering to what extent doctors were involved.

“Why, way back when, did the government put so much weight on the doctors in delivering the early months of the rollout?” asked Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra and veteran political journalist Michelle Grattan in a piece in The Conversation late this week.

“The pharmacists have only recently been brought in. If they’d been involved from near the start, we would likely be in a lot better position, at least with the AstraZeneca coverage.

“The question has to be asked: how much did doctors’ lobbying influence the initial shape of the rollout? What clout did they have with senior health officials?” she asked.

“In February, the Australian Medical Association issued a statement headed ‘GPs, not pharmacists, best placed for vaccine rollout’.

“It said AMA president Omar Khorshid had written to Health Minister Greg Hunt to express the AMA’s concerns.

“The release went on: ‘Dr Khorshid told Sky News that the AMA would prefer that the rollout remained part of usual GP interactions. ‘We do have significant reservations about the place of vaccination in pharmacy,’ [he said].

“‘In the very, very rare occurrence of a severe reaction like anaphylaxis to a vaccine, it’s something that we really can’t expect a pharmacist to be able to manage[…]’

“‘But the main reason is that we think that vaccination is part of a primarily holistic care package where people have a healthcare home. They know to go and see their local GP for their healthcare needs’.”

“In the AMA’s defence, this was as the program was about to get underway and reaction to the vaccines had unknown elements,” Dr Grattan writes.

“But the reference to the ‘main reason’ is a giveaway. As is sometimes said, the AMA is the country’s most powerful trade union. It fights doggedly to protect its turf.”

Pharmacists have expressed frustration with the way the vaccine rollout has been handled, with Labor politician and hospital pharmacist Emma McBride telling Parliament that she has “heard from so many pharmacists who are just exasperated”.

“Like me, they’re trained immunisers, they’re ready and they’ve been prepared. They put in expressions of interest back in February and welcomed the health minister’s announcement earlier in the year that they’d be part of the rollout. But up until now very few of them have been part of the vaccine rollout. In my community, they’ve only been able to start this week”.

According to the Pharmacy Guild, participating pharmacies are expected to receive an email from the Pharmacy Programs Administrator in the 24 hours to Saturday, and site codes over the weekend.

Orders are due midnight Monday night, and pharmacies can now order up to 600 units.

Following initial orders, normal fortnightly ordering will continue.

The Guild is encouraging pharmacies to share and transfer stock between pharmacies to help meet patient need.

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  1. Tony Lee

    AMA 2 Guild 1
    We can’t win every time & publicizing the AMA’s hypocrisy only fuels the ‘eternal’ fire.

  2. Geoff

    Great that M. Grattan said the AMA is the country’s most powerful trade union- usually the shonky press says it’s the Pharmacy Guild

    • Still a Pharmacist

      I think medical association is very powerful in almost every country including Australia. The difference is AMA treats all its members equally and all the doctors support AMA’s move.

      In case of pharmacy, the grocery store owner, who has a pharmacy degree and sells medicine, treats employee pharmacists poorly and guild supports that owner.

      Few years back, in one of such pharmacy, I had to do 150+ scripts, counsel patients, sell S3, do dispensary orders, methadone, CPA claims, etc., in a 9 hr shift. Think that single pharmacist is doing vaccination as well.

      So not many employee pharmacists are unhappy about AMA’s move. Because they are already overloaded and have to do additional work to increase the profit of that grocery store owner.

      I believe pharmacists should be included in the vaccination hubs and paid adequately.

      • Anthony Tassone

        Still a Pharmacist

        Whatever one thinks of the Pharmacy Guild, it cannot go unchallenged the notion that ‘all the doctors support AMA’s move’.

        It has been reported that the AMA represents no more than 25% of the medical profession. (On the other hand, the Guild representation is 70-75% of those eligible to join).

        If you were to read an online publication for the medical profession and their forums, you will gain a medical profession perspective of how they view they’re represented and their perceptions of the Pharmacy Guild. Below is a forum comment from AusDoc in an article published 27th July ‘Hot-spot pharmacists given green light to vaccinate all adults’:

        “Dear Dr Piazza , the answer is simple , Pharmacy Guild has asked for that and they have got it ….on the other hand for GPs .. who will ask for our rights ?! … really who is representing us ? In the real life .. no one .you will find the AMA & RACGP telling us the news about pharmacists taking our role slowly but surly … we were only knew about it after the decision was made , no one has consulted us .

        So many medications which used to be prescription Only are now available over the counter , which as doctors know it’s wrong to be sold OTC , but did anyone even took our opinion before they have decided that ?
        the same it’s for the vaccine and more to come .”

        Perhaps a case of ‘grass is greener on the other side’?

        Anthony Tassone
        President Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Victoria Branch)

        • Red Pill

          Key phrase: 75% of those “eligible to join”

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