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  • Written by Catherine Tran, Senior Research Officer and Pharmacist, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, University of Sydney
Pharmacist immunisers are gradually being allowed to give more types of vaccines. FotoDuets/Shutterstock

Vaccines have long been available from GPs and nurses. But in recent years, laws have changed to add pharmacists to the list of health professionals who can give select vaccines without a prescription.

This may improve vaccination coverage against the flu, whooping cough and measles. But there’s a chance it could cost you more than if your saw your GP for the same shot.

Overcoming resistance

Before 2014, pharmacists couldn’t give vaccinations in Australia. Then a pilot study allowed a select group of Queensland pharmacies to offer the flu vaccine.

By this time, pharmacists had been giving certain vaccines in Canada, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom for some years.

But in Australia, pharmacists didn’t have the skills and the law didn’t allow it. Another barrier was the attitudes of other health professionals, such as doctors, that pharmacists couldn’t or shouldn’t give vaccinations.


Read more: How rivalries between doctors and pharmacists turned into the 'turf war' we see today


The Queensland pilot study concluded pharmacists could safely and effectively administer certain vaccines to adults, once they were trained. This training included how to administer injections and what to do if something went wrong, such as managing anaphylaxis and performing CPR.

State and territory regulations have changed since 2014 and pharmacist vaccination services have quickly grown. In Victoria, for example, the number of pharmacies registered to give vaccines grew, from 36 in 2017 to 489 in July 2019.

What vaccines can you get at the pharmacy?

The rules vary in each state and territory. Generally, if you’re 16 and over, pharmacist immunisers can give you the following three vaccines:

  • influenza (flu)
  • diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) – except Tasmania
  • measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) – except Tasmania and the ACT.

These are important vaccines that are sometimes needed if adults missed doses earlier in life or have waning immunity. The influenza vaccine needs to be given every year in a short time frame.


Read more: Health Check: are you up to date with your vaccinations?


There are some further exceptions.

In the Australian Capital Territory, pregnant women can’t be vaccinated by a pharmacist.

In Tasmania and Western Australia, the flu vaccine can be given by a pharmacist to those aged ten and over.

Pharmacist immunisers are gradually being allowed to give more types of vaccines. In Western Australia, for example, pharmacists can now deliver the meningococcal ACWY vaccine to those aged 16 and over. This vaccine protects against around half of the strains that cause meningococcal disease in Australia.


Read more: What is meningococcal disease and what are the options for vaccination?


It might cost you more

Some vaccines that would be free from your GP, practice nurse or immunisation clinic will need to be paid for if given at a community pharmacy. That’s because pharmacist immunisers aren’t able to access the government-funded vaccines that your clinic can.

Victoria is an exception – pharmacists can give select government-funded vaccines. And in the ACT and WA, the over-65s can access government-funded flu vaccines at pharmacies.

Pharmacists can’t usually access government-funded vaccines, aside from in Victoria. Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock

The cost of vaccines at pharmacies varies. In Victoria, for example, the total fee charged for people not eligible for a government-funded vaccination is around A$20 for influenza and A$43 for pertussis (whooping cough).

Even if the vaccine is free, the pharmacy may still charge a consultation fee.

If you see your GP, they may either bulk bill you for the appointment or charge a consultation fee.

The best thing is to check ahead about any out-of-pocket expenses for vaccination when you make your booking.

Do you need to see a GP?

Pharmacy vaccination increases access to preventative health care, especially for those living in rural and remote areas, where it’s difficult to visit a doctor or clinics are infrequent.

Having pharmacists as immunisers also increases the immunisation workforce capacity for public health responses. To help address an outbreak of meningococcal disease last year in Tasmania, pharmacist immunisers administered the meningococcal ACWY vaccine to people aged 10 to 21.

Going to the pharmacist for some vaccines may take some pressure off family doctors and free GPs to deliver more complex care that only they can perform.


Read more: The role of pharmacists should be overhauled, taking the heat off GPs


But there may be instances when it’s better to go to your GP for a vaccination, for example, if you’re pregnant, have a chronic health condition or need some blood tests related to vaccination. Or you might have other things to discuss with your doctor other than vaccines.

Catherine Tran is an employee at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS). NCIRS receives service contract funding from the Australian Government Departments of Health, NSW and other state government Departments of Health. Catherine Tran has not personally received any relevant external funding, including from any governments, foundations, or research council grants.

Clayton Chiu is a public health physician and employee at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS). NCIRS receives service contract funding from the Australian Government Departments of Health, NSW and other state government Departments of Health. Clayton Chiu has not personally received any relevant external funding, including from any governments, foundations, or research council grants.

Kristine Macartney is the Director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS). NCIRS receives funding from the Australian Government, NSW and other state government Departments of Health. She also receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Authors: Catherine Tran, Senior Research Officer and Pharmacist, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, University of Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/pharmacists-can-vaccinate-adults-against-whooping-cough-measles-and-the-flu-but-it-might-cost-you-more-122191

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