Pharmacists may not be involved in vaccine roll-out until June

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It’s all hands on deck as vaccinations continue across Australia. However, the roll-out seems to be far behind its schedule, having vaccinated only 500,000 instead of the projected 4 million. Pharmacists’ involvement in the plan could hasten things, but according to the Pharmacy Programs Administrator (PPA), this may not be until June.

The PPA had been expected to approve expression of interest submissions since 19 March, but the date was subsequently pushed till 12 April. Final assessment activities won’t commence until May, meaning that no pharmacists will likely vaccinate a patient until the middle of the year.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejects the opinion that pharmacists’ inclusion was falling behind schedule, stating that, “It was always mid-year … we were always working to mid-year. Pharmacists were not coming in until the next phase. I welcome their enthusiasm and willingness to want to be involved in this, and when we reach that stage, [they] will be involved.”

According to the Guild’s Trent Twomey, pharmacists are prepared and ready to go whenever they are granted approval. “We’ve done all the mandatory training required for all COVID vaccine providers.”

Twomey also reminded everyone that community pharmacies provided up to 3 million influenza vaccinations in 2020 and that they could do more this year. “Some 97% of Australians live less than 3km from their local pharmacy, [making pharmacists] one of the most accessible primary health care providers,” he stated.

At the beginning of phase 2a, community pharmacies with PPA approval are expected to receive up to 50 doses a week. Pharmacies will also receive compensation for administering the doses — metropolitan-based pharmacies will get $16 and $26 while rural pharmacies will get $19 and $29 for the first and second doses, respectively.

Read: New Lockdown and Dispensary Regulations Keep Pharmacists on Their Toes

Pharmacies should have access to NIP vaccines

Currently, only pharmacies in Victoria, Western Australia, and the ACT have access to government-funded vaccines. According to Trent Twomey, there’s no reason why other states shouldn’t have the same access.

Speaking on the subject, Trent Twomey said, “The effectiveness [in] Victoria, Western Australia, and ACT shows just how successful … the program is. Pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals, and pharmacies are open for extended hours… It is essential that we utilise these factors in making access to vaccines easier for eligible NIP patients.”

The demand comes not only from the Guild but from patients as well. Reports have shown that eligible patients offered to pay pharmacies simply because it was more convenient than the alternative. Branch president of the ACT Guild, Simon Blacker, said that it’s important that the community has the greatest possible access and opportunity to the NIP influenza vaccine. According to him, most Australians live within a few kilometres of a pharmacy, so it makes sense to extend full access pharmacies country-wide.

“People 65 years and older are at high risk of developing serious complications from flu compared with young, healthy adults … it’s strongly recommended that all adults over 65 have a flu shot,” Blacker added.

Pharmacists in South Australia now have access to ScriptCheckSA

ScriptCheckSA is a Real-Time Prescription Monitoring (RTPM) System that will allow pharmacists to tackle prescription abuse. SA Health Minister Stephen Wade said the system would enable pharmacists to review a patient’s history and assess their use of controlled medicines in the past.

Medications recorded in the ScriptCheckSA will include schedule 8 poisons, benzodiazepines, and other drugs containing substances like codeine, tramadol, and zopiclone. According to Wade, “prescription drug dependence and misuse are a major public health concern. Nationwide, the supply [of prescription drugs] is increasing, as is the rate of overdose and accidental death.”

ScriptCheckSA enables pharmacies to control this by exposing inappropriate use of high-risk medications and patients who visit multiple doctors to get the same controlled drug.

“ScriptCheckSA gives doctors and pharmacists reassurance that they are making safer clinical decisions before a prescription … is written or dispensed,” Wade further added.

Read: Government restricts telehealth MBS access to a patient’s regular GP

The Guild criticises NSW’s vax centre plan

The NSW government plans to convert Sydney’s Olympic Park to a mass vaccination centre to complement existing clinics. The effort also aims at doubling the state’s current vaccination capacity.

However, the Guild disagrees with this move, with Trent Twomey stating, “it doesn’t make any sense to send thousands into a footy stadium increasing the risk of community transmission, as opposed to patients booking at their local pharmacy down the road from home.”

Twomey further emphasized the importance of using community pharmacists to drive the roll-out. “We’ve seen in the US that the most successful roll-out has been in West Virginia where they’ve gone with the local pharmacy option as the vaccination provider,” he said.

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