Ready and waiting

No more mass vaccination hubs should be activated until community pharmacies are engaged, says Guild president, as new Sydney centre opens its doors

Community pharmacies are still waiting to be called up to the frontline of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, as a new mass vaccination centre opened in Sydney this week.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the centre at Sydney Olympic Park would operate six days per week from 8am to 8pm, initially focusing on delivering Pfizer vaccinations to priority groups including healthcare workers, emergency services workers as well as quarantine and border workers and their households.

“The mass vaccination centre will be able to administer up to 30,000 vaccines per week once it is up and running, that means around 5000 vaccinations per day,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Meanwhile there are already several such vaccination hubs up and running in Victoria, including the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and the Royal Exhibition Building.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said registered nurses and midwives comprise the majority of the Sydney centre’s 300-strong workforce, however pharmacists are heavily involved in the preparation of the vaccines.

SHPA Chief Executive Kristin Michaels told AJP that hospital pharmacists and technicians spent months preparing for their role in the safe and secure administration of COVID-19 vaccinations, well ahead of the of the Federal Government’s announcement that vaccine hubs would be set up across Australia’s largest hospitals.

Hospital pharmacists have now taken the lead in setting up and operating state-run vaccination clinics across the country, as the roll-out grows dramatically in scale, she added.

“This is a task requiring immense logistical skill as well as unparalleled medication management know-how,” said Ms Michaels.

“With these mass vaccination clinics separated from hospitals and their associated resources – power and storage, for example – hospital pharmacists have to consider everything: medicines security, maintaining the cold chain supply, backup power, equipment procurement, workforce and workflow optimisation to ensure vaccination demand is met,” she said.

“In most cases, hospital pharmacists are taking charge of preparing vaccines rather than leaving it to immunisers at the point of administration, thus maximising the immuniser workforce.

“At the same time, hospital pharmacy technicians, who prepare and store vaccine doses, are taking the lead in establishing structured, standardised training programs, and overseeing day-to-day pharmacy operations, freeing up pharmacists to oversee workflows, final sign-off of prepared doses, stock management and reporting to government health departments.

“It’s an incredibly powerful symbiosis and pharmacists everywhere should be very proud of the central roles they’re playing,” said SHPA Chief Executive Kristin Michaels.

However the Pharmacy Guild is not happy that these mass vaccination hubs have been opened while community pharmacies are yet to be utilised.

“Mass vaccination clinics have their role to play, but they should not have been activated and no more should be activated until the community pharmacy network has been engaged,” Pharmacy Guild National President Trent Twomey told AJP.

“What the evidence shows is that those jurisdictions internationally, in the US and Canada and the UK, that have engaged their community pharmacy network have been able to receive higher vaccination rates sooner than those jurisdictions that have not,” he said.

“If those ministers want to address the crisis of confidence with the community’s trust in the vaccination program, they need community pharmacy.”

Community pharmacies were expected to join the vaccine rollout from Phase 2A, initially scheduled for May, however this has been delayed and is now likely to be in June, according to the Guild.

Professor Twomey told AJP that the vast majority of EOIs submitted by more than 4000 community pharmacies have been accepted, with only a handful knocked back.

However a list of approved sites was provided to states and territories nearly two weeks ago. He encouraged all pharmacists to call, email or fax their ministers to lobby for community pharmacy to be able to join the COVID-19 vaccine rollout as soon as possible.

“We’ve done the same mandatory COVID vaccination training as the GPs and nurses. We have the consult rooms set up and ready to go,” Professor Twomey told AJP last month.

“We’ve also seen in the US that the most successful rollout has been in West Virginia where they’ve gone with the local pharmacy option as the vaccination provider.

“We understand and support the Government’s vaccine rollout strategy, but if we want to move to a rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccination, it makes sense that they use our national network of healthcare professionals.

“In at least 60 towns around Australia we are the only primary healthcare provider in town.”

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