As part of Tasmania’s Winter Demand Plan for 2019, the Tasmanian Government is expanding pharmacist-led flu vaccinations to include children ten-years-old and over – a first in Australia.
The initiative, launched by Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson on 19 May, was designed to ensure the health system ‘provides the right care in the right place at the right time’ during peak flu season. It includes the reduction in age of pharmacist vaccinations to ten, increasing the capacity at the state’s hospitals and encouraging Tasmanians to take charge of their own health by getting vaccinated.
PSA National President Dr Chris Freeman said that the initiative will improve access to the vaccine.
‘Allowing trained pharmacists to vaccinate a larger percentage of the population ensures greater convenience for consumers, meaning more people will vaccinate their children this flu season. Consequently, the increased vaccination rate will help protect the people of Tasmania from this preventable disease.’
This isn’t the first time that Tasmania has led the way in reducing the age of pharmacist-administered vaccination. In July 2018, there was a public outcry after a 16-year-old girl passed away from meningococcal, said PSA Tasmanian Branch Manager Paquita Sutherland.
At the end of that month, Minister Ferguson announced that there would be free meningococcal ACWY vaccine for those aged between six weeks and 21 years of age. It was also announced that for the first time ever, pharmacists would be able to administer a state-funded meningococcal vaccine, with a reduction in age to ten years old, Ms Sutherland said.
The program was initially set to run for 90 days. Around 1,000 people per day were vaccinated – some attending mass-vaccination clinics, such as at the Derwent Entertainment Centre in Hobart or Launceston Council, others attending GPs and pharmacies, she said.
After the first 90 days, 90,000 people were vaccinated, which far surpassed what the Department of Health thought they would achieve. The program was then expanded, ending 28 February 2019 in order to use up the surplus stock.
Ms Sutherland said the whole project was considered a huge success and that Minister Ferguson’s decision to expand pharmacist flu vaccinations was ‘on the back of the success of the meningococcal campaign’.
‘One thing we’re already seeing as a result of this announcement is an increase in adults going into pharmacies and having their flu vaccinations – and we’re only a few days in.’
Expanding pharmacy services
Increasing pharmacist vaccinations was identified as a key action during the two-year consultation process that resulted in PSA’s Pharmacists in 2023 report, Dr Freeman said.
Action six in the report was developed as a result: ‘Better utilisation of pharmacists to proactively tackle public population health priorities, increase vaccination rates and implement health prevention and treatment strategies.’
Under this action, PSA recommends that the range of primary healthcare activities suitable to community pharmacy should be funded and expanded, initially focusing on vaccination, Dr Freeman said.
‘The reduction in the age of pharmacist-administered flu vaccinations in Tasmania is an important step in increasing the number of people vaccinated against the flu. In turn, this will improve herd immunity,’ he said.
‘Pharmacists have provided vaccinations since 2014, across all states and territories since 2016, leading to increased vaccination rates, including many people being vaccinated for the first time.’
Earlier this year Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt praised pharmacists’ role in saving lives through expanded vaccinations in community pharmacies.
‘In the last year we went from 8.6 million flu vaccinations to 11 million flu vaccinations,’ Mr Hunt said. ‘In 2017, sadly, 1,150 people lost their lives. In 2018, where there was the dramatic expansion of herd immunity through your programs and the programs of others, that figure dropped by over 90% to just over 100 people. You really are saving lives and protecting lives. The outcomes are recognised and measured.’
These figures show that pharmacist-administered vaccination services are not only increasing vaccination rates but, in turn, increasing herd immunity and protecting the lives of Australians, Dr Freeman said.
A national approach?
Dr Freeman said that PSA, as the peak national body for pharmacists, has advocated for many years to allow pharmacists to deliver more vaccinations.
‘We welcomed the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council’s decision last year to establish a working group to consider a nationally consistent approach to pharmacist-administered vaccinations,’ he said.
‘The taskforce will be established under the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and will consider and recommend options.’
Dr Freeman noted that research has shown, both locally and internationally, that the high accessibility of pharmacists can boost vaccination rates, contributing to a reduced burden on our healthcare system.
A national approach to pharmacist-administered vaccinations will reduce confusion, ensure better access for patients to quality vaccination services, and utilise the pharmacy workforce appropriately,’ he said.
Research commissioned by PSA has indicated public support for pharmacist vaccinations is high. The research revealed that almost two-in-three Australians believe pharmacists should be able to administer a broader range of vaccinations.
Dr Freeman said that PSA has consistently called for:
- equitable access for consumers to a wider range of pharmacist-administered vaccines across all states and territories
- consistent regulation of pharmacist immunisers across all states and territories
- increased consumer access to the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for all vaccines permitted to be administered by pharmacist immunisers in all states and territories
- enhanced recognition of the role of pharmacist immunisers and the evidence-based benefits they provide to consumers, the health system, and to public health
- incorporation of pharmacist immunisers in Commonwealth and state/territory immunisation campaigns, particularly the annual influenza immunisation campaign.
‘PSA looks forward to working with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to make full use of pharmacists’ expertise across the country so they can provide a wider range of vaccinations,’ he said.
This year’s PSA19 conference is themed: Pharmacists in 2023, showcasing how to enhance the potential roles, recognition and remuneration for pharmacists. Register here to attend.