‘No brainer’ to include pharmacy… but it’s left out


Pharmacy is “integral” to the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine… yet the sector is excluded from a key advisory body

Two articles in this week’s edition of Guild newsletter Forefront highlight both the importance of the sector in vaccinating against the novel coronavirus, should a safe and effective vaccine become available, and pharmacy’s omission from an important group.

National executive director Suzanne Greenwood writes in an editorial that “the increasing number of companies reporting successful COVID-19 vaccine trials is encouraging but also highlights the acute need for Government plans to ensure maximum uptake of these vaccinations by the community”.

“Now is the time to thoroughly plan distribution pathways and it is important that the pivotal role community pharmacy can play is recognised and built into all planning,” she warns.

She said that while the Government’s Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy does acknowledge the role of pharmacy, this is only a starting point.

“With 97% of consumers in capital cities living within 2.5km of a pharmacy, and in regional areas, 65% of people living within 2.5km, community pharmacy must be part of the solution to vaccinate target populations, drive up immunisation rates, create value for taxpayers and reduce pressure on health systems,” writes Ms Greenwood.

“Community pharmacy has consistently shown its value in improved vaccination rates through convenience, accessibility and opportunistic vaccination – and patient satisfaction around convenience and accessibility, particularly after-hours/weekend access, is high.

“Quite simply, pharmacies offer some of the best opportunities for patients to be vaccinated.

“The Government – especially when looking at the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine – needs to not only recognise, but utilise, the fact that community pharmacies are the most accessible health destination in Australia. Community pharmacy services more than 461 million patient visits annually.

“It is essential that State and Territory regulation and legislation is amended without delay so that community pharmacists can begin vaccinating as soon as the COVID-19 vaccine is available.”

She also calls for the Government to work with the Pharmacy Guild to ensure that not only is community pharmacy represented in planning and coordination, all pharmacy staff, including assistants, should have priority access to a vaccine.

“Importantly, community pharmacy also must be appropriately remunerated for the costs of administering the vaccine as part of a COVID-19 Government-funded program.”

To ensure maximum uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine, Ms Greenwood calls for:

  • Community pharmacy must be included in all Government public health campaigns.
  • Concept testing of collateral must include community pharmacies as an audience.
  • Resources to assist community pharmacies to promote the availability of COVID-19 vaccination should be provided with clear endorsement from the Australian Government.
  • Public health messaging should clearly list availability in local pharmacies.
  • Materials developed by the Australian Government should include CALD, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Older Australians, Carers and Disability audiences.
  • Beyond any public health campaign, the community pharmacy sector should be recognised in the regular Government communications on COVID-19 to the primary care sector.

Meanwhile national president George Tambassis has spoken out about the omission of pharmacy in the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) COVID-19 Working Group, which provides advice to Health Minister Greg Hunt.

ATAGI recently announced the formation of three sub-groups – for vaccine utilisation and prioritisation; vaccine distribution and program implementation; and vaccine safety, evaluation, monitoring and confidence.

None include representatives of community pharmacy.

“It’s an absolute no brainer that community pharmacies must be pivotal to any comprehensive and effective COVID-19 vaccination program,” he said. “This is the only way to ensure its success.

“It beggars belief that this vital healthcare sector has been overlooked.

“Community pharmacists must be represented on each of the sub-groups and the Guild looks forward to working with ATAGI to ensure that these sub-groups can help to achieve the desired result of protecting as many Australians as possible from COVID-19.”

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5 Comments

  1. Greg Kyle
    03/12/2020

    Realistically, this is a bit of chest beating from the Guild. The 3 sub-groups are:
    1. vaccine utilisation and prioritisation;
    2. vaccine distribution; and
    3. program implementation; and vaccine safety, evaluation, monitoring and confidence.

    Community pharmacists definitely have a role in #1 as an administration site. This is where pharmacists can make a difference and get the vaccine widely administered. If official pharmacy was smart, it would avoid the term ‘distribution’ like the plague. ‘Distribution’ is a logistics term and implies either warehousing or transportation (for a fee). The logical question then becomes “What value do community pharmacies provide in a bulk supply chain?” – answer: little to none. What the profession should be talking about is administration and getting the largest number of people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

    #2 is all about large scale logistics, and I fail to see any value community pharmacies could bring to the supply chain apart from being an extra stop and wanting a fee for ‘warehousing and passing on’. There is no reason why the COVID vaccine (or realistically any vaccine distributed in bulk) should stop in a community pharmacy – it is inefficient from a process perspective.

    #3 is about pharmacovigilance, and while community pharmacies should report any issues they directly observe or have reported to them by patients, community pharmacists are not skilled pharmacoepidemiologists or pharmaciovigilance experts.

    • BILL ARNOLD
      03/12/2020

      Greg, Everything I have seen so for indicates the all manufacturers are producing 10ml Multi-Dose Vials only. Are we going to be comfortable using these ?

      • Greg Kyle
        07/12/2020

        Hi Bill

        I don’t see why not – pharmacies just need to organise appointments in batches of 10 as other HPs do. Easy done.

    • Anthony Tassone
      05/12/2020

      Greg

      You may call it chest beating – I will call it advocacy on behalf of our profession.

      Make absolutely no mistake – doctors groups across the country are making very active representations for community pharmacy to be excluded from the roll out of the COVID-
      vaccine, even as an administration site.

      You and I agree on ‘pharmacy definitely having a role’ but predictably, other peak bodies and groups disagree with that and have applied a decent amount of pressure to see our profession excluded.

      I have already sat through multiple meetings where tired and worn out arguments needing to be countered of pharmacies not being able to handle: social distancing, post vaccination observation, management of adverse events and the cold chain have all been hurled.

      This is all despite a notable number of general practices transitioned during to telehealth during the COVID pandemic and were not offering face-to-face consultations whilst community pharmacies continued to keep their doors open and offer vaccination services.

      There is also misreporting occurring in mainstream press with a report in News Corp earlier this week stating that the COVID-19 vaccine ‘will not be available from your local pharmacy.’

      This has already been taken up with the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt – contact has also been made with the newspaper and the journalists who put that story to print.

      Community pharmacies are mentioned in the Australian government COVID-19 vaccination policy as an administration site and it states:
      “Pharmacies. They are likely to play a role in COVID-19 vaccination for some part of the population (e.g. healthy adults) at some stage, depending on the safety profile of the vaccines.”

      The Guild will continue to advocate to seek clarification and ensure pharmacy plays a role in not only the roll out and administration of the vaccine but be remunerated appropriately if indeed it will be ‘free for all Australians who choose to receive it’ as the government has indicated.

      We will continue to keep our members updated as more information comes to hand,

      Anthony Tassone
      President, Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Victoria Branch)

      • Greg Kyle
        07/12/2020

        Hi Anthony

        I don’t disagree with your points – however, they only address #1 which I supported pharmacy’s involvement in … albeit not calling the process ‘distribution’.

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