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Pharmacy News: Pharmacists and the COVID Vaccine Rollout

January 27, 2021 0 Comments

As Australia moves closer to a COVID vaccine rollout, there are mixed opinions about how pharmacists should be involved. Find out more about what is happening. 

One of the current hot talking points in pharmacy news is around the impending Australian COVID vaccine rollout and the role of pharmacists.

This comes in a week where the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) granted provisional approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine, with the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and Novavax COVID vaccine approvals likely to follow.

The Australian federal government is keen to see as many Australian vaccinated as quickly as possible (spending AUD$24 million on an advertising campaign), but serious questions over the logistics of vaccination have been raised.

How will the COVID vaccine be made available?

Trying to give the COVID vaccine to upwards of 26 million Australians not just once but twice is a logistical nightmare. 

It is further complicated by some COVID vaccines, such as Pfizer’s, needing to be stored at minus 70 degrees C, although it is believed that it can be stored for shorter periods of 4-5 days in normal refrigeration without losing its efficacy.

Regardless, the speed at which the government wants to roll out the COVID vaccine – up to one million doses a day once full approval occurs and supply chains open up – means it will be nigh impossible to achieve vaccination targets unless more creative measures are implemented.

Pharmacists and the COVID vaccine

While hospitals and GPs will be the likely initial primary locations for the COVID vaccine rollout, other options are being considered for mass vaccination clinics. These include drive-through pop up clinics, sporting ovals and stadiums, and rural hubs. 

And, in pharmacy news from December 2020, setting up pharmacists as vaccination clinics is also under consideration.

Pharmacists performing standard immunisations is nothing new. According to the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s (PSA) Victorian Branch president John Jackson, “Pharmacists have been immunising in Victoria since June 2016 and have demonstrated that they have the skills and competence necessary to do so.’ 

This has led to calls from the PSA to be able to administer a range of vaccines, including pneumococcal, varicella-zoster and influenza type B. And now, of course, there is also a call for the COVID vaccine to be included.

On the surface, this makes complete sense. The extensive spread of pharmacist locations across the country offers unparalleled access to the vaccine administered by a huge body of skilled, competent medical professionals who can expedite the COVID vaccine rollout. However, not everyone views this as an optimal option.

What GPs think of the COVID vaccine rollout

The AMA was quick to jump on the pharmacy news that pharmacists would be employed in the COVID vaccine rollout in Australia. Australian Medical Association (AMA) president, Dr Omar Khorshid, has spoken out against pharmacies becoming vaccine clinics.

Khorshid has a high regard for pharmacies in terms of their importance in being health hubs and an integral component of primary care. However, he holds concerns over the retail component of their livelihood.

‘Pharmacy is an important part of primary care, but also a retail space trying to sell you products,’ Khorshid said, arguing that GPs are better suited to the storage, delivery and crucial record-keeping aspects around the COVID vaccine rollout 

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) President Dr Bruce Willett has supported Khorshid, also voicing concerns over the safety of using pharmacists during the COVID vaccine rollout. He told NewsGP, ‘It’s a new vaccine, it’s come out quite quickly and so general practice is a far safer environment.’

So, will pharmacists be involved in the COVID vaccine rollout?

Despite the concerns of peak medical bodies, it looks likely that the government’s strong desire to see a rapid Australia-wide vaccination program will be the key determinant in the role of pharmacists and the rollout.

While no firm decisions have been made about this or how it will work, watch this space as we get closer to the end of February and the proposed commencement of vaccinations.

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