National approach needed on measles

The PSA has again called for a national approach to pharmacist vaccination, following the release of a study which looked at people with waning immunity who contracted measles

The study, published this week in Clinical Infectious Diseases, looked at 13 measles cases between 2014 and 2017 in Victoria which involved secondary vaccine failure – meaning the patient had received at least one dose of the vaccine, but their immunity waned and they contracted measles.

The researchers, from the Doherty Institute, warned that people born after 1965 may have received only one dose of vaccine, rather than the two now recommended and provided under the National Immunisation Program, reducing their immunity.

“Research has shown internationally and locally that pharmacists are considered highly accessible and they can boost vaccination rates, contributing to a reduced burden on our already over-burdened healthcare system,” said PSA national president Dr Chris Freeman.

“Pharmacists have provided vaccinations since 2014, and across all states and territories since 2016, leading to increased vaccination rates, including many people being vaccinated for the first time.

“Independent research commissioned by PSA has revealed almost two-in-three Australians believe pharmacists should be able to administer a broader range of vaccinations.”

This is particularly important in regional and remote areas where people may have trouble accessing a GP, he warned – and for people who may not visit a GP regularly, or even have a GP.

“Allowing trained pharmacists to vaccinate will increase vaccination rates and herd immunity within the community,” Dr Freeman said.

“While Australia has a strong childhood vaccination program, there are many areas in Australia with vaccination rates still below the level of coverage required for herd immunity, including for dTpa and MMR. Pharmacists can play a key role in addressing this issue.

“Minister Hunt recently highlighted the increase in measles cases in Australia, announcing an awareness campaign about the disease and vaccine. This highlights the importance of addressing measles on a national basis.

“To do so, we need a national approach to pharmacist-administered vaccinations. It doesn’t make sense that pharmacists can vaccinate for measles in all states and territories except the ACT, Tasmania and WA.

“In October last year the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council tasked the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee with establishing a working group to consider and recommend options for a nationally-consistent approach for pharmacist-administered vaccinations.

“PSA welcomed this decision and looks forward to working with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee on this much-needed initiative.”

He said that the PSA will continue to advocate for a national approach to pharmacist-administered vaccinations – to reduce confusion, ensure better access for patients to quality vaccination services, and use the pharmacy workforce appropriately.

Meanwhile, AMA vice president Dr Chris Zappala has warned that Australians should not interpret the measles story to mean that vaccine sceptics are right about vaccines not providing herd immunity.

He spoke to Sky News’ Stacey Lee, who asked whether the findings about waning immunity gave any credence to anti-vaccination claims.

Dr Zappala said this was a “dangerous thought”.

“Vaccination is hugely beneficial. I mean, remember the wards of polio victims that’s now been eradicated; the kids that used to come in with meningitis to emergency departments and have hearing or neurological problems as a result; and other conditions, as well, that we’ve managed to virtually wipe out,” he told Ms Lee.

“Part of the problem here is that vaccination rates are not as high as they should be. We need to have that herd or community-level of protection so that these viruses can’t get a foothold and circulate in communities in the first place. Vaccination’s safe, effective.

“Please have confidence in it. It’s very important as a community that we do commit to that schedule and do it as well as possible.”

Echoing the words of the Doherty Institute researchers, he said that more work was required to investigate whether a third vaccination could be appropriate in adulthood.

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