NIP access on the horizon

Government to consider expanding NIP access to community pharmacies in South Australia

The South Australian government will establish an expert advisory group to consider expanding distribution of National Immunisation Program (NIP) vaccines to community pharmacies, Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said over the weekend.

This proposed change would allow people aged 65 years and over to access NIP influenza vaccines through community pharmacies from next year.

“This is the population group that is most at risk of complications from the flu, yet they are not able to access their free vaccine from a pharmacy,” said Minister Wade.

“While GPs are and will remain the central point for immunisation, the advisory group will explore the opportunity to provide older South Australians with improved convenience, access and choice.

“Community pharmacists are trained vaccinators who have a trusted track record of providing safe, effective and valued immunisation services to South Australians.”

This announcement follows on from Minister Wade’s announcement earlier last week that around 100 regional, rural and remote pharmacies would be engaged to provide the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pharmacies in Western Australia, Victoria and the ACT can administer the Commonwealth Government-funded NIP vaccines to people aged 65 years and over, following successful pilot programs.

However pharmacies in South Australia currently cannot access these vaccines and instead need to purchase them from private providers. Pharmacies typically charge patients $14-$20 to administer these vaccines, although some private health insurers cover this cost.

Emeritus Professor Lloyd Sansom has been appointed as the independent chair of the Community Pharmacy NIP Access Advisory Group, which will provide expert advice to the Government on options for a safe and effective model for pharmacists to administer NIP vaccines.

SA Chief Pharmacist Naomi Burgess said pharmacists have already proven to be safe and effective administrators of the flu vaccine for paying clients over the age of 10, and this is helping to drive up immunisation rates.

“South Australia and Western Australia led the way in 2015, becoming the first states to allow pharmacists to administer flu vaccines. Other states have since followed our lead,” she said.

“Extending access to NIP vaccines to pharmacies will support increased immunisation coverage and reduce the number of cases of disease that are preventable by vaccination in South Australia.

“Many people value the timeliness and convenience pharmacies can offer. Being able to walk in off the street and have a flu shot has seen a huge boost in the number of people vaccinated across Australia and resulted in many people having a flu shot for the first time.”

The SA branch of the Pharmacy Guild welcomed the Minister’s announcement, with president Nick Panayiaris telling AJP: “It is pleasing to see the government’s confidence in community pharmacists in expanding access to services that pharmacists are trained to deliver.

“The Guild has been advocating for this access for some two years with the current government on behalf of our many patients who continuously ask us why we can’t vaccinate them with the preferred NIP influenza vaccine, yet we can vaccinate for the others.

“As their trusted health professional, patients find the convenience of community pharmacy as a sensible and practical place to have their vaccinations undertaken,” he said.

“The [SA] branch will work with the Advisory group to enable the expansion of the distribution and access of NIP influenza vaccines through community pharmacies.”

Mr Panayiaris noted that expanding access to the NIP would enable significantly increase access to vaccination for those aged over 65 in rural and regional areas, and would provide many people over 65 visiting their family members in aged care facilities to have greater and timely access to getting the preferred vaccine required before entry.

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