A substantial jump in Western Australia’s (WA) influenza cases and flu-related deaths has led to a reduction in the pharmacist vaccination age to 10 to increase herd immunity.
WA Minister for Health Roger Cook announced the decision last week after data showed there were 3,000 new influenza cases and 14 deaths within the span of a week. So far this year, there have been 29 influenza-related deaths in WA, a jump clearly visible from previous years in this ABC infographic.
Dr Fei Sim, Senior Lecturer School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at Curtin University and PSA WA State President, said that the reduced age of pharmacist vaccination is not just a win for pharmacists, but for the entire community.
‘If there are more immunisers in WA, we can all contribute to improving immunisation rates,’ she said.
While pharmacists are now able to vaccinate children from the ages of 10–18, Dr Sim said that the focus of the initiative is to improve immunisation rates and coverage to provide herd immunity and protect the public at large.
The reduction in pharmacist vaccination age aligns with the Western Australian Immunisation Strategy 2016–2020, with the overarching goal being to achieve high levels of immunisation across WA to protect individuals and populations from vaccine-preventable diseases, including influenza.
Objective number one in the strategy relates to increasing vaccination rates for young children, and number three for adolescents. By lowering the age that pharmacists are able to vaccinate against influenza from 18 to 10, this will help to achieve overall vaccination coverage, Dr Sim said.
Vaccinations for young and old
Last year, those above 65 years of age, a demographic that experiences far more complications when they contract influenza, qualified to receive influenza vaccination under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) funded by the Federal Government.
WA entered into a two-year trial to allow pharmacists to provide influenza vaccines (Trivalent high-potency vaccine) under the NIP for those over 65 to improve immunisation rates in this age group, who have been shown to have lower immunisation rates.
‘Now that WA pharmacists can vaccinate children from 10–18, we are able to really allow pharmacists to contribute to improving immunisation rates across the board – from 10 years old to those over 65,’ Dr Sim said.
She asserts that increased pharmacist vaccinations is something that both pharmacists, and the community, are ready for.
‘When the news went out last week that pharmacists are able to vaccinate children from the age of 10, pharmacists began administering the vaccinations on the very same day.
‘Although it’s too early to calculate the number of vaccinations that we’ve done for those between 10–18, what we’re hearing from pharmacists in WA is that parents are bringing their children in straight after school to be vaccinated.’
An issue of access
Dr Sim said that in the past when families have come into pharmacies to be vaccinated, they are able to vaccinate the parents but the children have been referred to a GP.
‘While going to the GP is great, and we’re all trying to contribute to increased vaccination rates, it’s also about the opportunity to get people vaccinated,’ said Dr Sim.
Opportunistic vaccination is particularly important in population groups that are usually healthy, where vaccination is not typically front-of-mind.
‘If a family can come into the pharmacy and we can vaccinate them all together, and there’s no clinical reason why we shouldn’t be able to, it’s good news for everyone – from a convenience, accessibility and equitable point of view.’
Dr Sim said that aside from improving immunisation rates in the general population, coverage will also be extended to vulnerable populations, such as those with chronic medical conditions or immunosuppressed patients who can’t receive vaccines for medical reasons, through herd immunity.
‘This is the fifth flu season that pharmacists have been able to vaccinate against influenza, and so far we haven’t seen any major adverse events or negative reports,’ she said.
‘But what we are seeing is evidence to support that having the vaccination done in a community pharmacy environment is safe, effective, accepted by the community, and that there is actually a demand there for it to happen.’