Pharmacy attacked over flu vax fees, timing

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon.

The national AMA president has suggested pharmacies lack the professionalism of GPs when it comes to flu vaccination

The AMA is throwing its weight behind recent calls by the RACGP for Australians to wait until April to have their flu vaccinations at the GP.

National president Michael Gannon told ABC News that timing matters when it comes to flu vaccination.

“We are concerned when pharmacies are out there advertising early flu shots at a time that might not be clinically appropriate,” he said.

“People who are vaccinated too early in autumn might have lost protection by late in the spring when the virus has mutated.”

He said doctor groups were working with the Federal Health Department with an aim of protecting as many vulnerable people as possible, and timing of the release of the vaccine has been part of that discussion.

He also criticised pharmacy over the fees it charges for the service.

“It’s simply not acceptable that pharmacies are deriving a fee for those populations that are entitled to free influenza vaccination,” he said.

“We just want the retail pharmacies to be every bit as professional as GPs are and indeed those employers who organise free vaccinations for their staff.”

Meanwhile Dr Omar Khorshid, president of the AMA’s WA branch, told Perth Now that pharmacies are “obviously motivated to get people through the door”.

“But we don’t see large numbers of people with the flu until after June … so, yes, what the pharmacies are doing has the potential to confuse many people,” he said.

Earlier this month the RACGP’s Dr Bastian Seidel said that the practice of “some vaccine providers” advising vaccination take place in March was putting patient health at “serious risk”.

At the time PSA president Dr Shane Jackson told the AJP that arguing over timing missed the point, as the highest priority should be placed on ensuring all Australians who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated.

In response to the AMA remarks, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s West Australian Branch issued a statement reaffirming its commitment to working with the State’s Department of Health to maximise the uptake of flu vaccinations among all age groups, particularly the vulnerable and those most at risk.

The Guild said it endorses the department’s guidelines in respect to getting the flu vaccination and “always encouraged its members to follow the clinical guidance of regulatory authorities”.

 “The Pharmacy Guild is focussed on increasing the rates of flu vaccination that will lead to lower rates of influenza infection and better health outcomes within the community,” it said. 

“The Pharmacy Guild has a network of community pharmacies that safely delivered some 85,000 immunisations last year and looks forward to again improving the health of all West Australians this year.

 “The WA Branch is determined to prepare the population for the flu and so try to avoid the tragic results of another horror season such as was seen in Victoria and NSW last year.

 “Raising public awareness and the access to flu vaccinations in community pharmacies will help to achieve that.”

 It warned that official figures already point to a potentially severe upcoming flu season.

 The Federal Department of Health has already recorded more than 9000 laboratory confirmed flu cases since January 1 this year, and more than 750 of these are in Western Australia.

 “The Guild is doing everything it can to help minimise the effects of the flu season on all Australians,” it says.

Immunisation Coalition director Robert Booy told the AJP that people at high risk of flu complications should wait until April or May for vaccination, but that the well can be vaccinated now.

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