Jeremy Lasek – PHAA
Australia’s vaccination numbers are rapidly on the rise and the latest official numbers show 11,593,766 doses administered since the rollout began.
Importantly, more than a third of the eligible population (38.9%) have now received their first dose while 17.2% have received two doses of vaccine.
Access to vaccine and places to vaccinate has been an ongoing challenge in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program in Australia during the past six months.
An announcement of more vaccine being made available early, along with the steady increase in vaccination rates and the news of a big increase in vaccine supply to Australia starting next year gives us cause for optimism.
This week, a further boost came with thousands of community pharmacies and additional GPs across Australia being invited to join the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
From Monday, over 3,900 community pharmacies who’ve expressed interest in joining the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and who’ve previously been found suitable, joined the national vaccination rollout.
The COVID‑19 vaccine will be administered in community pharmacies by appropriately COVID‑19 vaccine trained, registered pharmacists, nurse practitioners, nurses and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers, under the supervision of an approved pharmacist.
At the PHAA’s recent National Immunisation Conference delegates heard of Australia’s leadership role in broadening vaccinations into pharmacies.
Although pharmacist-administered vaccinations account for a small proportion of vaccinations given in Australia (2.9% in 2019), the demand for and scope of vaccinations administered in pharmacies has grown considerably in recent years.
Professor Lisa Nissen from Queensland University of Technology outlined to the conference the results of two pilot vaccination programs conducted in Queensland in 2014, to increase access to vaccination in the wider community following a series of serious influenza seasons.
Professor Nissan said that while the focus was on raising community vaccination rates generally, it was also important to prepare for a future pandemic workforce. The importance of that pilot is now becoming evident as pharmacies across the nation step forward to support the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
Dr Jeannette Young, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, who has been on the front line of the national response to COVID said ‘facilitating pharmacist vaccination has been one of the most rewarding achievements of my career.’
Professor Nissan says amongst many reasons for the pilot’s success was using the significant experience gained from the UK, USA and Canada, and that pharmacists were recognised in Australia as a trusted primary care provider.
During the pilots, 300 pharmacies participated, providing 26,000 vaccines with the majority aged 45 to 64 years. Importantly, more than 15% of people who participated in the trial wouldn’t have been vaccinated that year if the vaccine hadn’t been available at their local pharmacy.
Australia has joined a growing number of nations who have approved pharmacy-based vaccinations. In 2016, there were 13 nations with pharmacy-based vaccinations, increasing in 2020 to 26 countries.
Influenza vaccines are the most commonly administered in pharmacies in 29 countries, followed by Hepatitis B (19), Tetanus (18), Diptheria (17), Hepatitis A and Measles (both 16 countries).
Also presenting at the National Immunisation Conference, researcher Cyra Patel, outlined the importance of the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) in preparing our pharmacies for their role in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
An online survey vaccinating community pharmacists, conducted in June and July 2020, sought to capture data about the recording and reporting of vaccines administered and to identify enablers and barriers to reporting. Almost all (96%) of the 227 pharmacists who responded to the survey reported higher than expected demand for influenza vaccination last year.
The survey found of the 87,665 vaccine encounters, 82.2% reported to the AIR. Completeness of reporting was highest in Australia’s major cities.
The survey revealed 99% of vaccines administered were for influenza. The most common method of checking the patient’s vaccination history (95%) was to ask the patient, followed by checking software records (31%), checking the AIR (26%) and checking paper records (17%).
Amongst the enablers to vaccination reporting were: use of an automated process; believing that reporting is important; greater knowledge about reporting requirements; and remuneration.
Difficulties identified in the survey included: challenges accessing and using the AIR site; having incomplete patient information; and inaccurate knowledge.
In the past week, the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce has been fast tracking the on-boarding of community pharmacies in the Local Government Areas of Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Liverpool, with 48 pharmacies to commence offering vaccines in these areas by the start of next week.
Pharmacies wishing to administer AstraZeneca vaccines will commence vaccinating from mid-August.
In addition, community pharmacies will also participate in the rollout of the Moderna vaccine from September.
Photo Credit: Anna Tarazevich from Pexels