Is pharmacy ready for the COVID vaccine?

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The federal government says pharmacy is to participate in phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, but our readers are not sure if the profession is ready for this role

There was a flurry of announcements, media releases and commentary around the government’s plans for the COVID-19 vaccination rollout during January.

On January 12, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australian community pharmacies will become involved during phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

At the same time, the Minister said the government wanted to begin the vaccine rollout in February, bringing it forward from the previous mid-March start date.

Speaking at a doorstop interview, the Minister said Australia’s vaccination network is “built around our general practices with support from our pharmacies”.

“And so our general practices will commence when the AstraZeneca vaccine commences as part of Stage 1B. The pharmacies from phase 2 are expected to join,” Mr Hunt added.

“We were speaking today with the head of the Pharmacy Guild. And last week, I spoke with the AMA as well. And so, they’re all pitching in.”

An ‘enormous logistical exercise’

The announcement was welcomed by pharmacy leaders.

Guild national president George Tambassis said talks with the Minister had “confirmed the absolutely essential contribution of community pharmacies to the COVID vaccination task” and he welcomed the Minister’s “support and confidence” in community pharmacy.

“Make no mistake—this is the biggest public health challenge Australia has ever faced, and community pharmacies are an essential component in this enormous logistical exercise,” Mr Tambassis said.

“Trained community pharmacist immunisers are standing ready to make a significant contribution to the health workforce charged with administering these vaccines to all Australians who wish to be vaccinated,” he said.

“Pharmacist immunisers are now providing significant and demonstrable public health dividends—through the millions vaccinated against influenza at their local pharmacy in 2020, and now as community pharmacists add to the health workforce preparing to administer these absolutely essential vaccines.”

Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants will themselves be vaccinated as part of Phase 1b, Mr Tambassis said, a recognition of their essential role as healthcare workers.

PSA national president, Associate Professor Chris Freeman, said PSA has been meeting with the Department of Health regarding multi dose vial administration and how to support clinicians with safe delivery of all approved vaccines.

“Pharmacists have a vital role to play when it comes to the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines ensuring there is enough capacity in the system to allow the public to be vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he said.

“PSA has for some time urged all state and territory governments to amend legislation that will allow pharmacists to administer a COVID-19 vaccine and while some jurisdictions have made these necessary changes, others have been slow to act.”

“So, we call on state and territory governments where required to urgently change legislation in such a way that will also allow pharmacists to vaccinate in any setting to ensure there is wide and comprehensive uptake of the vaccine”.

However AJP readers are not so sure that pharmacy is ready for this role, with only 35% voting Yes in our poll on whether pharmacy was ready to participate in the COVID-19 vaccination. A similar amount wanted more detail on the scheme before committing

The Poll: what do AJP readers think

We asked our readers “Is pharmacy ready to vaccinate as part of phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout?”

Here’s what you voted (current as of 4/2):

  • Yes: 35% (285 votes)
  • No: 26% (218) 
  • Not sure: 7% (57)
  • We need more detail: 32% (264)

AMA not happy

The Minister’s comments brought a quick response from the Australian Medical Association (AMA), whose president Dr Omar Khorshid said “the second phase, whichever vaccine is decided upon, must harness the long recognised expertise of GPs in delivering safe vaccinations in a medically-appropriate environment, not shopping centres or discount outlets”.

“GPs have a proven record in delivering vaccinations safely and effectively to their patients,” he said.

“This includes care in following pre and post vaccination processes, such as the high standards in recording of vaccinations.

“This will be critical because several COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be used and all those currently in development will require multiple doses, which will require careful recording on the Australian Immunisation Register.”

Responding to the AMA comments, a spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia said “the proven record of pharmacist immunisers over the past five years also speaks for itself.

“The AMA needs to get with the program and put patients first.”

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1 Comment

  1. Kent Eddings

    I wonder how many patients Dr Omar Khorshid is going to vaccinate in his Ortho practice ?

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