Pharmacy COVID-19 vaccine delayed

‘We’re ready to go’: Pharmacy Guild signals one-month delay for COVID-19 vaccine rollout in community pharmacies as government misses March target

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in community pharmacies has been delayed by one month, according to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

While community pharmacies are still expected to join the program as part of Phase 2A, this is now likely to begin in June instead of May, when it was initially anticipated to commence.

“We understand Government will bring us on as part of Phase 2A, likely to be in June and we remain keen to play our role in dealing with the pandemic,” Pharmacy Guild national president Trent Twomey told AJP.

“We’re supportive of the Government’s national COVID vaccine rollout strategy.”

Professor Twomey highlighted that community pharmacies are keen and ready to get vaccinating.

“We’re prepared and ready to go – we’ve done all the mandatory training required for all COVID vaccine providers, including GPs and nurses,” he said.

“We’re trained and qualified to provide vaccinations across the country.”

However community pharmacies received disappointing news on 19 March when the Pharmacy Programs Administrator (PPA) sent out an update stating that its Expression of Interest process had identified the need for “further clarification” of responses provided by a “significant number” of pharmacies.

The additional information required relates to site requirements for COVID-19 vaccination, according to the PPA.

As a result, there is no confirmation as yet as to how many community pharmacies have actually been approved for the program.

More than 4000 pharmacies are understood to have put in an EOI to join the COVID-19 vaccination strategy and were expecting to receive a response from the Department of Health.

Relevant community pharmacies are expected to be contacted and it is anticipated this “clarification process” will be completed this month, with “final assessment activities” undertaken from May.

However the PPA reassured that individual community pharmacies are expected to be notified of the outcome of their EOI “well ahead” of the commencement of Phase 2A.

“Pharmacies assessed as suitable will commence participation in tranches, based on readiness, vaccine availability, ability to reach priority populations and geographic considerations. Some pharmacies will commence as part of Phase 2A, while other pharmacies may commence as part of later Phases of the vaccine roll-out,” reads the update.

At a recent doorstop, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government intends to commence Phase 2A once Phases 1A and 1B are further along.

“As we see the [Phase] 1B program and as we see the other programs being completed, or the vast majority of people having taken it up, then we’ll commence each phase. But that will be based on the demand,” he said.

Phase 2A is scheduled to begin “towards the middle of the year,” he stated.

The Federal Government has meanwhile had to face up to criticism after failing to reach its goal of four million Australians vaccinated for COVID-19 by 31 March.

By that date, there had been 670,349 vaccinations administered in Australia.

This number has risen over the past few days. Minister Hunt confirmed that as of 3 April, there had been 841,885 vaccinations administered nationally.

Professor Twomey said pharmacists are ready to take up the mantle when the time comes for them to join the program.

“Last year community pharmacies provided an estimated 3 million influenza vaccinations, and we’ll do it again and more this year.  97% of Australians live less than 3km from their local pharmacy – which makes us one of the most accessible primary health care providers nationally,” he said.

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