Pharmacy on the frontline

Canberra parliament house

The Pharmacy Guild presents its case for a role in COVID vaccination to Parliament, but most of the heat falls on industry

Guild national president, George Tambassis, and executive director, Suzanne Greenwood, have fronted the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19.

The Guild leaders presented their case for pharmacy’s role in the overall COVID-19 response, and their  upcoming participation in the vaccination program during a packed one-day hearing on Thursday 28 January.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid, also appeared via videoconference, as did representatives from the TGA, Department of Health and vaccine manufacturers Astra-Zeneca Australia and Pfizer Australia.

“Community pharmacies are set to play a vital role in the vaccination of the Australian population against COVID-19,” Mr Tambassis told the Senators.

“Community pharmacists will be vaccinating patients from Phase 2a of the national vaccine roll-out strategy, giving millions of Australians the option of having their vaccination at their local pharmacy.  This will require a lot of work by pharmacies and the Guild to prepare pharmacists for this crucial role.

Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants will be vaccinated as part of Phase 1b, recognising their essential role as health care workers, and standing them in good stead to advise and assist patients seeking information on the vaccine,” he said.

“And to add to the challenges, we are expecting a very high demand for flu vaccinations this year as communities understand that staying healthy is more critical than ever during the pandemic”.

The Guild and AMA had both earlier prepared submissions that were released by the Committee, and Mr Tambassis called their attention to the Guild submission, saying “the issues and the recommendations remain relevant today”. 

In its submission, the Guild said “recognising the critical frontline primary healthcare role pharmacists play during disasters and emergencies and utilising their training to its full extent, including in recovery, relief and future planning efforts, will ensure that all Australian communities have the best access to essential health services they need”.

While the Guild appearance prompted only a few questions asking for more detail around their role, Senators were more focused on the industry delegates who were, and were not in attendance.

Committee chair Senator Katy Gallagher (ALP, ACT) was extremely critical of CSL for refusing to attend the hearing, citing it being held during an “extremely busy period” for the company.

Senator Rex Patrick (Ind, SA) later referred to CSL’s non-attendance as being “disrespectful”.

There were a number of questions to the Astra Zeneca and Pfizer representatives about reports that the European Union was reportedly placing export controls on vaccines produced within its borders.

At a press briefing today, Acting chief medical officer, Professor Michael Kidd said the February vaccine rollout launch was subject to international supply issues, but that for now the government’s guidance remained unchanged, describing its projections as “cautious and conservative”.

“The Government remains on track for a late February commencement of the Pfizer rollout, commencing with the availability of approximately 80,000 doses per week,” Professor Kidd said.

“In addition, the rollout of the AstraZeneca international dose is on track for an early March arrival, subject to approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and final shipping confirmation.

The latest guidance from the company is for supply of approximately 1.2 million AstraZeneca doses from offshore during March, and the company remains committed to the full supply of the 3.8 million offshore doses, and will confirm additional shipping dates once global supplies are confirmed.

Further, Australia’s certainty and continuity of supply is underpinned by the 50 million-dose domestic production agreement with CSL and AstraZeneca. This supply is now projected to commence in late March, earlier than previously expected, delivering 1 million doses per week.

It’s projected that 2 million domestically produced doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be supplied in late March,” he said.

“These projections already take into account global supply challenges for both Pfizer and AstraZeneca and the European regulatory proposals. They have been confirmed by the country heads of Pfizer and AstraZeneca in discussions with the Australian Minister for Health….” Professor Kidd said, adding that “…all deliveries are, of course, subject to global production and supply and shipping processes”.


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