A pilot study by The University of Western Australia shows fewer adverse reactions from influenza vaccines administered in pharmacies, compared to vaccines administered at GPs and clinic sites, supporting the idea that pharmacies could be used to provide COVID vaccines.
The results coincide with frustration in the community that pharmacies are not being used to their full potential to assist with the COVID vaccination roll out.
In the study, carried out between March and October last year, 6992 patients received vaccines from pharmacies and results were compared with 94,448 patients who received vaccines from other locations. Overall, 4.8 per cent of those receiving vaccines in pharmacies reported adverse reactions, with 6 per cent from GP and clinic sites reporting adverse reactions.
"Pharmacies are a perfectly equipped, important resource that could be stepped up to support the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, as well as decrease pressure on the health system which we know is stretched to its limits."Dr Sandra Salter
Project lead Dr Sandra Salter from UWA’s School of Allied Health said the study monitored adverse reactions to vaccines in near real-time, following up on patients in the days after their vaccine was administered. In conjunction, pharmacy data on adverse events was also linked directly to AusVaxSafety, Australia’s active vaccine safety surveillance system, giving authorities a clear picture of any negative impacts from vaccines in the community.
“At the moment, state and federal governments have been slow to enlist the support of pharmacies to help with the COVID vaccine rollout,” Dr Salter said.
“In Queensland, more than 50 pharmacies in rural areas are now giving COVID-19 vaccinations, but in other parts of Australia patients are having to wait for a clinic or vaccination hub appointment. Western Australia has been progressive in enabling people aged 30 years and older to get vaccinated, but we need more vaccination sites to cover the demand.
“Pharmacies are a perfectly equipped, important resource that could be stepped up to support the vaccine rollout, as well as decrease pressure on the health system which we know is stretched to its limits.”
Dr Salter said the pilot system used cloud and smartphone technology, which is rapidly scalable, and could be used for safety surveillance of any vaccine.
“Vaccinations automatically upload to the patient’s record on the Australian Immunisation Register, and serious reactions can be sent to state health authorities and the Therapeutic Goods Administration,” she said.
“Government and the community would really benefit from the expansion of pharmacies to be used for COVID vaccination – after all, pharmacists routinely vaccinate people aged 10 and up against a range of diseases. People have confidence in their pharmacist, and appreciate the convenience of getting vaccinated in their suburb by someone they know.”
The study, published in BMJ Open, was supported by MedAdvisor’s vaccination recording software and SmartVax software to monitor patient reactions and supported by a $40,000 grant from the JM O'Hara Research Fund. SmartVax is widely used in general practice, and the use of SmartVax in this study ensured equivalence of pharmacy data with long standing and well analysed GP data.
The team is also working on another study, supported by a $217,000 grant from WA Health, seeking pharmacists to participate, to show how pharmacists record vaccination services and identify adverse reactions.
A separate study through UWA’s Coronavax project, a joint initiative with Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Telethon Kids Institute, is seeking to speak to pharmacists as one of the key groups central to understanding community attitudes to COVID vaccines. As well as pharmacists, they are also keen to hear from aged care workers, people in the regions, and parents of young children who can participate in the study through the Coronavax website.