With the Federal Government announcing pharmacists will be among those administering COVID vaccines in the workplace, Dr Sandra Salter, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacy at The University of Western Australia, provides her opinions on the important role they can play in the rollout and providing booster shots in the years to come. Estimates show pharmacists could accelerate the rollout by three months and in WA, working at full capacity, administer as many as 76,800 vaccinations per day. To assist them with this work, UWA has developed a near real-time vaccine safety surveillance system.
Are WA’s pharmacists set to play an important role in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout as safe immunisers who will capture patients not seen in general practice or mass vaccination clinics? Which groups are they more likely to capture and why?
WA's pharmacists already play an important role in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout through their involvement in hospital, GP clinic, and mass vaccination hubs. We expect they will play a crucial role through the 512 of WA's community pharmacies across the state that have been approved as COVID-19 vaccination sites. Initially, 67 pharmacies will be onboarded in rural and remote areas to provide access to COVID-19 vaccination that would not otherwise exist. We need to bring on the rest of WA’s approved pharmacies, to maximise our available immunisation workforce to ramp up vaccination efforts.
We know from our flu vaccine work, that those who visit pharmacies are generally younger than those who visit clinics or general practice. They like the convenience of being able to visit their local pharmacy, where they know the pharmacist, and can easily get in and out at a time that suits them, for having the vaccination.
Working at full capacity, how many COVID vaccines could WA pharmacists administer in a day?
This depends on the number of immunising pharmacists and vaccination rooms in each pharmacy – larger pharmacies will have greater capacity than smaller pharmacies. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has suggested involving pharmacists would accelerate the rollout by three months, and save the Federal Government $77 million. As a conservative estimate, we can do a simple calculation. Assuming all 512 WA pharmacies that have been approved to be part of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout were to be onboarded; and if there were no restrictions on vaccine supply, and each pharmacy could offer vaccines from 8am-8pm up to seven days per week, WA pharmacists could administer between 30 and 150 vaccinations per day, depending on the number of vaccinator trained pharmacists and accessible consultation rooms. This would translate somewhere between 15,360 and 76,800 vaccinations per day (107,520 – 537,600 vaccinations per week, if vaccinating seven days per week at full capacity).
How can WA’s pharmacists aid the vaccine rollout in rural and remote communities?
WA is a huge state with large hinterland regions without doctors, where the pharmacist might be the only vaccinating health professional in town or in the region. Rural and remote pharmacists know their patients and their community, they have established supply chains, and they are trained to give vaccinations. As in Queensland, WA’s pharmacists can quickly extend the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to populations that would not otherwise be able to access the vaccine, and support Australia’s efforts to protect some of our most vulnerable people.
How can WA’s pharmacists aid the vaccine rollout in cities?
We have all seen the long queues of people outside mass vaccination hubs. We have heard about the chaos for patients trying to book vaccination appointments. We are all aware of the willingness of business to have their staff vaccinated on site, and the fears of having unvaccinated vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those with a disability. We are all too familiar with lockdowns due to insufficient people being vaccinated. Community pharmacists, who have completed the government's mandatory training, can administer COVID-19 vaccines from any approved site, including their pharmacy or an aged care facility. They currently visit workplaces to give flu vaccines and are likely to do so for COVID-19 vaccines from as early as September this year.
Although COVID-19 vaccines are new and different, we have to accept that, globally, they are and will possibly always be a part of normal life now and in the future. Being able to receive approved vaccines as a normal part of life, in the environment of the local pharmacy, may help normalise the process of vaccination, improve confidence in, and uptake of, all vaccinations.
How experienced are WA pharmacists at providing vaccinations and what training have they undergone? Have they assisted in increasing vaccination rates with other vaccines?
All pharmacists approved to administer vaccines must have completed an immunisation course approved by the chief executive officer of the WA Department of Health in addition to their usual pharmacist training. This includes regular updates to training, and in the case of COVID-19 vaccines, also includes the specialised modules that all health professionals must complete to administer these vaccines.
In 2014, WA pharmacists became the first approved in Australia, after the initial Queensland Pharmacy Immunisation Pilot, to provide influenza vaccinations to the public. Since then, pharmacists have been approved by the WA Health Minister to administer a range of vaccinations including influenza, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (dTpa) combination, meningococcal ACWY conjugate and now COVID-19 vaccines. Not only have pharmacists been endorsed to provide a greater range of vaccines, in the horror flu season of 2019, the health minister changed the law so pharmacists could vaccinate children over the age of 10 for flu, significantly expanding vaccination rates when we most needed it, and now many people choose to visit the pharmacy to get their flu or other vaccine because it is simple, safe and effective.