One flu expert has shed some light on one of the reasons pharmacists don’t have access to NIP flu vaccines

Recently Pharmacy Guild Victorian Branch president Anthony Tassone spoke out about the fact that aside from in Victoria, pharmacists around the country are not able to access the free vaccines available under the National Immunisation Program for eligible patients.

“All other States and Territories need to allow pharmacists access to NIP flu vaccines to boost the number of people vaccinated and increase the desired herd immunity,” Mr Tassone wrote.

“The fact that Victoria has effectively and seamlessly moved to increase the protection for its communities by giving pharmacies NIP vaccine access is a benchmark for other jurisdictions to follow.”

At a press briefing today, Professor Robert Booy from the University of Sydney and director of the Immunisation Coalition said that it’s likely that pharmacists outside Victoria will indeed have access to NIP vaccines – but not this year.

“The reason it’s not been done that way is that we’re introducing these new enhanced vaccines, high-dose or adjuvant, and for the first time in Australia this year,” he said.

“So we’re trying to do it under controlled, careful circumstances. I’m quite sure that in future years, that if we continue using these vaccines – and I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t – that we would roll it out to wider distribution points.

“I’ve got no problem at all with going to the local pharmacist to get my vaccination, or anyone else’s.

“Last year I took my 92-year-old father-in-law to the local pharmacy, and were it [the new high-dose vaccine for over-65s] available, I would do the same this year.

“So over time I think it might be rolled out, but we’re just doing a careful introduction at the moment.”

Also present at the briefing was Laureate Professor Peter Doherty, from the University of Melbourne, Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, Australian Academy of Science, and past winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; Prof Doherty praised the accessibility of pharmacist vaccination against flu and other infectious diseases as “very convenient”.

“I think giving vaccines through pharmacies is a really good idea for the common vaccine, if it brings more people into being vaccinated,” he said.

“It’s been the case for many years in the United States with, for instance, the shingles vaccine, and I got it first in the US.”

These comments followed weeks of controversy in the mainstream media as debate swirled around when Australians, particularly those who are eligible for free vaccines under the NIP or the new vaccine for over-65s, should be vaccinated.

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild told the AJP that the organisation supports the ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) advice regarding vaccination of patients 65 years old and over to preferably receive the adjuvant or high dose trivalent vaccine that is specifically targeted for them.

“It should be available very soon through the National Immunisation Program,” the spokesperson says.

“Having said that, the Guild believes that all States and Territories should follow Victoria’s lead and allow access to NIP stock for pharmacies providing vaccination services to be able to offer to eligible patients.”

And NSW Pharmacy Guild president David Heffernan clarified this issue to his members in the latest NSW Guild Bulletin.

“Much confusion has arisen in media and communication around the flu vaccine and the appropriate time to administer,” he wrote.

“This is understandable, as advice has only recently changed from last year’s, where it was recommended to vaccinate and vaccinate early.

“The new advice delivered in mid-March is from the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer via Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and Dr Vicki Sheppherd from NSW Health and pertains primarily to high risk – 65 years and over – as well as timing of vaccination.”

Mr Heffernan explained that the change in immunisation policy is as follows:

  • “Persons >65 years who are eligible to receive free influenza vaccine under the National Immunisation Program are informed about the two higher-immunogenicity trivalent influenza vaccine (TIV) formulations (one a ‘high-dose’ vaccine and another containing an adjuvant). They should be advised to wait and receive the higher-immunogenic influenza vaccine from their immunisation provider from mid-April 2018.”
  • “Timing of vaccination should be considered to achieve the highest level of protection during the period of influenza virus circulation.”
  • “Pharmacies that employ Authorised Nurse Immunisers to deliver their influenza vaccination service should ensure that the nurse immunisers are aware of this advice and inform patients >65 years of age about the two new influenza vaccines.”

Mr Heffernan advised members that he and PSA NSW branch president Peter Carroll had had several questions about this advice and had met with Dr Sheppherd and NSW chief pharmacists to discuss the matter.

“It was a productive meeting establishing lines of communication to ensure pharmacists are included in all communications in the future,” he wrote.