‘Why wouldn’t I just want to go to my pharmacy?’

New Guild national president Trent Twomey has slammed the NSW Government’s mass COVID-19 vaccination hub plan as nonsensical, time-consuming and inconvenient

State premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that, “the NSW Government will… be setting up a vaccination hub at Homebush, and this is to allow us to support the Commonwealth in distributing the vaccine, once we have finished the 300,000 that we said we would do”.

The mass vaccination site is expected to complement the existing 100 sites across the country’s most populous state, Ms Berejiklian said.

NSW had been given responsibility for administering approximately 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, while the Federal Government is expected to manage the remainder.

Ms Berejiklian stressed that “the hub at Homebush will be in addition to the hundred sites we will already have up and running.”

She said the state Government anticipates that after the initial 300,000 doses are administered, it will be able to administer another 60,000 a week, half at the Homebush site.

But Trent Twomey, national president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, said it makes no sense for the NSW Government to exclude community pharmacies as one of their major vaccination providers for COVID. 

Community pharmacies are expected to come onboard to provide COVID-19 vaccination as part of Phase 2a, now expected to commence in June.

Professor Twomey highlighted the accessibility of the community pharmacy sector, noting that there are more than 5,900 community pharmacies across Australia. In capital cities 97% of Australians are within 2.5km of their local pharmacy, while outside of capital cities, 66% are within 2.5km of their local pharmacy. 

“We’re trained and experienced in providing vaccination. Last year we provided an estimated 3 million flu vaccinations,” said Prof Twomey.

“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. We’re only down the road for many Australians, who visit us at least 18 times a year on average,” he said.

 “So with this mass vaccination idea, how does it work if I need to go to a footy stadium for my COVID shot?

“Assuming I’m in a city near a footy stadium, I’d have to take time off work during the week, then have to get to the stadium in the traffic probably with my young family in tow, wait for hours for my shot in close quarters with hundreds of others, putting us all at greater risk of community transmission, and then wait around, then to find a way home for all of us. 

“Why wouldn’t I just want to go to my pharmacy down the road from home on a weekend?  I could be back at home within 30 minutes with no disruption to my family, and a lot less risk of community transmission. It just doesn’t make sense.

“We’re used to working over public holidays and being open for extended hours and on weekends,” Prof Twomey said.

“Last year there were over 462 million individual patient visits to local pharmacies. 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.” 

In mid-February more than 4,000 community pharmacies expressed an interest in providing the COVID-19 vaccination.

As of Friday 26 March, the Pharmacy Programs Administrator contacted those pharmacies to advise they were seeking further information. It is expected that the current stage of collecting further information will be completed by the end of April.

Following that the Australian Government will undertake a selection process in May.

The Pharmacy Guild says it has no details on the scope or timing of the selection process, or when community pharmacies will be brought on to provide COVID-19 vaccinations.

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