Pharmacy jabs on the nose with RACGP

Dr Harry Nespolon.
Dr Harry Nespolon.

RACGP national president Dr Harry Nespolon has again made a jibe about perfume and pharmacy, after the Guild encouraged Australians to be vaccinated against the flu

On Thursday, the Pharmacy Guild reminded Australians that influenza is a serious illness, warning that nearly 10% of those hospitalised with the disease are admitted to intensive care.

The Guild encouraged people to get the vaccine, pointing out the “convenience, cost and the minimal time required to schedule an appointment” in pharmacy.

The RACGP issued a statement saying that Australians need to be aware that the timing of the flu vaccination is “critical” to getting the most protection when the flu season begins.

Dr Nespolon said that there was no need for patients to rush for the vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

“Typically, flu season affects Australia from June to September, with the peak being August,” Dr Nespolon said.

“Recent evidence suggests that protection following flu vaccination may begin to wear off after three to four months, so timing of vaccination is critical to make sure you are not unprotected at the end of the season.

“Holding off from vaccination until mid-April would actually be more beneficial for most patients, as opposed to rushing out to get their vaccination as soon as possible.

Dr Nespolon said specialist GPs are best placed to advise Australian patients on timing of vaccination.

He also said he was concerned that “some influenza vaccine providers” are already advising people to receive a flu vaccination.

“Urging people to receive their flu vaccination too early in the year may not actually cover them for the flu season, and put them at risk.

“We do not want to see patients who are doing the right thing in receiving a flu vaccination, getting the wrong advice and getting it too early and seeing the vaccination lose effectiveness by the time we reach the peak of the flu season.”

Dr Nespolon then appeared on 9 News Melbourne and told reporter Madeline Slattery that “You might be confronted with, ‘do you want a bottle of perfume with your flu vax,” if patients access vaccination in pharmacy.

It’s not the first time Dr Nespolon has mentioned perfume in his criticisms of pharmacy: in February, he wrote a column in newsGP titled: “Do they teach perfume dispensing in pharmacy school?”

He also told Nine that people aged over 65 do not need to pay for a vaccination against flu, as these are available from doctors – though as Ms Slattery told viewers, the vaccine for over-65 will not be available for a couple of weeks.

Anthony Tassone, Pharmacy Guild Victorian Branch president, told the AJP that the latest perfume comments were not helpful.

“These comments are not consistent with mutual respect of health professional colleagues in working as a team to deliver quality patient care,” he said.

“They’re intended to discredit and cast doubts of the capabilities of other health professions. They’re not in the interests of true patient-centred care.”

Mr Tassone reiterated comments he had made to Nine that with more than 19,000 confirmed cases of flu reported in Australia so far this year – nearly doubling the total reported this time last year, at 10,400 – the 2019 flu season has “well and truly” started.

“Whilst the absolute ideal time to get vaccinated is mid to late April, there’s also the risk that with this time coinciding with Easter this year people may not get around to being vaccinated and end up missing doing it.

“If patients are ready and willing to now that’s far more preferable than delaying vaccination and risking not having it done at all.”

There is mixed evidence of the pros and cons of vaccination in late March and early April, Mr Tassone said.

“On the one hand it is slightly earlier than the ideal but in the other hand it helps start to build the community immunity for those most vulnerable as we move more into the winter and closer to the peak season to protect our most vulnerable.

“We should be concentrating on the benefits of being vaccinated rather than arguing the toss over a couple of weeks on timing.”

He said that health professionals should not lecture patients as to how they access their care, but instead offer safe and accessible options so they can decide.

“This is true patient centred care,” Mr Tassone said.

“Pharmacists and community pharmacy have proven to be a safe, accessible and publicly accepted deliverer of vaccination. If there’s an increase in vaccination rates and moving closer to achieving ‘community immunity’ by trained health professionals in a safe environment and manner then that can only be positive.”

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