‘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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