Date: 11 August 2021
By Suzanne Greenwood, Executive Director
The way in which community pharmacies across the country have risen to the challenge of helping maximise the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations is a source of great pride for me.
After a delay which frankly tested the patience of many Guild members – and their patients – the Commonwealth Government granted approval last month for all eligible community pharmacies across all of Australia to join the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
We had already seen a handful of community pharmacies in regional, rural and remote areas administering the COVID-19 vaccines, but there had been a blanket deferral on the vast majority of pharmacies being able to participate.
Following strong advocacy by the Guild, the Government changed its approach when the critical situation in Sydney emerged and the need to ramp up the rate of immunisations assumed much greater urgency.
This has been a huge success and the public acceptance and use of pharmacies as COVID-19 vaccination points has been outstanding and underpins that facilitating access to the vaccine became central to increasing vaccination rates.
It is here that the accessibility of community pharmacies has been so important.
And access isn’t just about hours that people can get their vaccine. It’s about access at weekends and within reasonable distance to their homes.
The Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt, specifically addressed the aspect of accessibility when appearing on our Guild COVID-19 vaccination update webinar last week, saying that a feature of community pharmacies during the COVID-19 crisis was they had stayed open and continued to provide essential health services to communities.
The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, had highlighted that people accessing vaccination providers at the weekend was a problem, saying: “Obviously, you don't have as many GPs offices and clinics open on the weekend. The state clinics are open in many places, but both the states and the Commonwealth are going to be looking at ways in which we can increase the rate, availability and points of presence for people to get their vaccines on the weekend.”
We all know that our pharmacies are open when other health professionals are not accessible or, at best, not easily accessible. Most of us will have had to drop into a pharmacy for a prescription or some urgent medicine well after business hours or at the weekend. But it is something we tend to take for granted, so I was intrigued to see the data from Guild research about just how accessible community pharmacies are.
For example, in metropolitan areas some 95 per cent of pharmacies are open on a Saturday, and 66 per cent are open after GPs within 1km of the pharmacy close their doors. And overall, community pharmacies report 462 million individual patient visits a year. This is made possible owing to 97 per cent of people in capital cities having access to at least one pharmacy within 2.5km of their home, while across the rest of Australia the figure is 66 per cent of people.
Fundamentally, most people are never that far from a pharmacy.
While this data is important in highlighting that it’s easy for people to get to a pharmacy and have their COVID-19 vaccination, it is the human element and the commitment of the pharmacists and their staff which really underpin how critical the inclusion of all eligible pharmacies to the roll-out is.
The willingness of these professionals to go out of their way is amazing. I have heard of one pharmacy which invited people to send messages to its social media site and found that, even with its extended hours, there were some patients who found it hard to get in for a vaccination. The solution? They had patients nominate when they could make it and the pharmacy opened to accommodate them. This meant that on some days they opened at 7am and on others worked ‘til much later than usual – but the end result is that patients have been vaccinated.
This is just one isolated example among myriad instances where the pharmacy has done everything it can to provide the service the patient needs. And importantly, to provide a service that will help maximise COVID-19 vaccination uptake in Australia.
The success of the flu vaccination program in pharmacies – which last year saw some 4 million flu shots delivered in pharmacies – has also been built on accessibility and working to the needs of patients.
This community pharmacy commitment is not limited to administering vaccines. It extends across the full range of services provided by pharmacies. The extended hours and access are not new to community pharmacies... it’s the way they have been operating for as long as I can remember.
Contact: The Guild