“Now the time is right for us to bring pharmacists into play” vax rollout chief tells Senate as he outlines pharmacy’s new role and why it’s been sidelined
From this week more pharmacists are actively participating in the expanded COVID vaccination rollout, its chief has told the Senate.
Lieutenant General John Frewen appeared before the Senate COVID-19 Committee last Friday (23 July) to discuss the program’s fast tracking, including the activation of many more pharmacies.
“I am boosting the program by accelerating community pharmacies to administer vaccines,” Lt Gen Frewen said.
“I am immediately onboarding 64 pharmacies to address the current outbreak in New South Wales and these pharmacies will be administering AstraZeneca from next week. This means, from next week, I will have 251 pharmacies operating and delivering COVID vaccines, 64 in New South Wales alone”.
“I am bringing pharmacies on as a priority in south-west Sydney right now. We’ll have 48 of those starting on Monday. We’ve got another 118 across the nation currently, but, through to the end of this month, we will have more than 500 pharmacies brought on board.
Through August, I hope to have just shy of 900 brought on board. By the end of September, we’ll be getting up towards more than 3,000. Into October, we seek to have as many—there are around 4,000 pharmacies that we think are suitable online”.
“We’re looking at all the options—mass vaccination clinics, pop-up clinics and pharmacies…. because what I seek to have now, as we have that greater supply, is greater diversity of distribution points,” he said.
The General, along with Department of Health officials, faced questioning from Senators over the slow vaccine rollout, including some that focused on the initial lack of pharmacy involvement.
In response to questions about the location of the activated pharmacies in New South Wales, Lt Gen Frewen said: “The pharmacies that were brought on early in the program were based in regional and
remote areas, where there wasn’t GP coverage, but now we are focusing on a nationwide rollout”.
Senator Perin Davey (NP, NSW) questioned why there was a delay in introducing pharmacies given “community pharmacies were always part of the plan. Where was that delay?”
Lt Gen. Frewen said “My understanding is that a decision was made early to focus on GPs as the initial backbone, always with a plan for pharmacies. I think that has proved to be very effective to date. More than six million of the 10.6 million or 10.8 million doses that have been administered since have gone through the Commonwealth GP hubs, so I think that has been effective. But now the time is right for us to bring pharmacists into play”.
The issue of consent
Other questions, from Senator Murray Watt (ALP, Qld) focused on the medical advice provided to government regarding the expansion of informed consent consultation through Medicare to community pharmacists.
” The informed consent—which is a process, not a form—happens through a variety of health professionals, and the GP-led parts of the rollout also have a multidisciplinary team that includes nurses and other professionals, including pharmacists,” said Dr Lucas De Toca, First Assistant Secretary, Vaccine Taskforce, Department of Health.
The clinical governance arrangements for community pharmacists to form part of the rollout are being governed by state and territory regulation, and the Department of Health has been working with each state and territory for the framework that supports and governs clinical conduct in the community pharmacy rollout, he said.
“There are some states that have granted broad regulatory approval for accredited pharmacists to provide both vaccines in different settings. Some states have restricted it to particular age groups such as people aged 60 years and over.
That is a joint process, but ultimately the regulation of authorised immunisers is governed by each state and territory jurisdiction”.
Senator Watt responded: “So I suppose the bottom line is: by the time we see community pharmacists rolling out AstraZeneca, will the systems be put in place for consumers to obtain informed consent and provide informed consent if they get that vaccine through a community pharmacy?”
“Every clinical encounter of this nature, whether it’s over 60 or under 60, requires informed
consent. The clinical governance arrangements that have been put in place for the community pharmacy aspect of the rollout are not dissimilar to other parts of the rollout,” Dr De Toca said.
“Community pharmacies went through a process of meeting requirements of ATAGI and a pretty robust assessment by the pharmacy program administrator, and those pharmacies that were deemed suitable are the ones that have been approached initially as part of that rollout.
The specific regulatory arrangements for community pharmacy and for pharmacists’ administration of the vaccine are done in partnership but are ultimately determined by each state and territory government”.