Community pharmacists in Queensland delivered their first COVID-19 vaccinations this week, with 49 rural and remote locations now eligible to begin vaccinating patients.
Melissa Acton MPS from Acton Health Pharmacy in Miles, 340 kilometres west of Brisbane, was thrilled to begin vaccinating patients against COVID-19 on Monday.
‘We are very excited and proud to finally be a part of the fight against COVID-19,’ Ms Acton told Australian Pharmacist.
‘It’s extremely hard to get into a GP for general health, let alone the COVID-19 vaccine,’ she said.
No local GP clinics in Miles currently offer the vaccine, meaning residents had the choice of either driving 1.5 hours to the next clinic, or visiting the two mobile vaccination services – which have only come to town twice.
‘[Now] we’re able to offer it daily to our community,’ Ms Acton said.
‘It’s extremely hard to get into a GP for general health, let alone the COVID-19 vaccine. We’re able to offer it daily to our community.’
Melissa Acton MPS
The sentiment so far in the community has been extremely positive, she said, with bookings filling for the first week within 24 hours.
‘We have approximately 200 bookings [scheduled] in the next 2 weeks,’ she added.
Adapting quickly to accommodate the rollout has not been without obstacles, however.
‘One of the [biggest] challenges at the start was the short notice between finding out we were successful in being selected and the time of our first delivery of vaccine, [which was] 1 week,’ Ms Acton said.
‘Finalising policy, procedure and training pharmacy staff required many out of the ordinary work hours, but we were able to build on our community vaccination program and then implement the additional requirements of the COVID-19 vaccine.’
It has also been difficult to integrate their booking systems with the approved vaccine recording programs.
‘While both programs are working hard to be COVID-19 [vaccine] ready, there is still room for practical improvements,’ Ms Acton said.
‘This is particularly important when trying to maintain our current health service offering on top of the COVID-19 vaccination program.’
A critical juncture
Announcing the first pharmacy-delivered vaccines in Australia on Monday, Queensland Minister for Regional Health Mark Coulton said community pharmacists, who can provide the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to patients over 50 years of age, were ‘filling in the gap’ for those outside of metropolitan areas.
‘More than 8 million people live outside Australia’s major capital cities, and while the regions have largely been spared from outbreaks during the pandemic, getting vaccinated is vital to our ongoing recovery and way forward,’ Minister Coulton said.
PSA National President Chris Freeman said this was a turning point for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and a day ‘many rural communities have been waiting for’.
‘We are at a critical juncture in Australia’s fight against this deadly disease and pharmacist involvement must run parallel with the increasing supply of these highly-effective vaccines,’ he said.
‘Pharmacists around the country are vaccine champions and we are ready to play our part by joining the primary care rollout, emulating Queensland’s lead.’
Vaccinating in the outback
Brendan West MPS, owner of Wallumbilla Pharmacy, will begin vaccinating patients on Thursday (10 June).
Located 380 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, Wallumbilla has a health clinic where a GP visits once a week, but Mr West’s pharmacy is the only one in town.
‘I’m keen to get people protected as soon as we can and get the numbers up, so we don’t have the spectre of severe COVID-19 hanging over our heads,’ Mr West told AP.
He suspects the health clinic up the road will also happily send patients his way for their vaccine, so the clinic’s resources are not continuously tied up.
‘It’s a huge opportunity for pharmacy to be recognised as an essential part of the healthcare team, and take the burden off an otherwise overburdened healthcare system,’ he said.
The pharmacy will offer the vaccine to patients from Wednesday–Friday, when the part-time, first-aid qualified assistant is rostered on. Mr West has also trained the assistant to handle most of the pre-screening questions and consent forms, so she can help out when he’s busy vaccinating or checking on patients post-vaccination.
As the town’s residents are generally quite flexible, with many either retired and not restricted by a 9–5 job, he will slot them in around the pharmacy’s busier times, ensuring he can maintain an effective workflow.
‘This means we can still do our normal daily prescriptions, Webster-paks and unpack orders,’ Mr West added.
‘It’s a huge opportunity for pharmacy to be recognised as an essential part of the healthcare team, and take the burden off an otherwise overburdened healthcare system.’
Brendan West MPS
It’s hard to know how many people to expect at this stage, so the pharmacy is maintaining a manual booking system.
‘My concern is that if some are booking online, and I’ve got 3 days spread over 8 hours, it could be a waste of vaccines,’ he said.
‘If I’m taking [bookings] manually, then I can say, “Okay, Thursday bookings are open”. And when I’ve got a batch of 10 on Thursday, then I can start looking at other days.’
So far, Mr West has had a few people call to book in their vaccination, as well as a few walk-in patients, with 7 people booked in for Thursday. But word-of-mouth appears to be growing.
‘The health clinic is telling people that we’ll be delivering COVID-19 vaccines, so I expect that’ll get more people in,’ he said.
‘And one of my customers was saying that my pharmacy is on the list [of vaccinators] in the Courier Mail.’
Mr West is now able to promote the availability of the vaccine on Facebook, which he said should pique more interest.