Date: 11 August 2021
The pharmacy in the small Queensland town of Taroom was among the first community pharmacies in the country to be given the green light to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, but it was not a task without its challenges.
Proprietor Christie McLennan said the pharmacy was prepared for the role and initially everything went according to plan with uptake better than anticipated.
“I had hoped to just baby-step our way through it until we were functioning really well, but we hit the ground running with maximum bookings for the first few weeks,” she said.
“Then the Government changed the recommendations for Astra Zeneca from 50 to 60-year-olds which caused a little bit of hesitancy in the community and that was really challenging.
“But I think the biggest thing isn’t necessarily ‘is the vaccine safe or should I get it?’ ‘I’m not going to catch COVID... I’m in Australia, I’ll be fine.’
“Rather, it’s the misinformation that people are getting and getting every week.
“As health professionals, I suppose we accept that advice can change and can understand that a pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetime, so they are not going to get it right the first time and we are going to have to be flexible to change.
“But it’s very confusing for a population which doesn’t really know what to do and they are trying to make decisions for their best health outcome. The patient just doesn’t know where to look or where to get the right information from.
“So, we have had a lot of conversations about vaccinations, as well as doing the vaccinating, which has been going really well. And everybody is really accepting, and I hope the sooner we can all be vaccinated the better off we will be.”
Ms McLennan said initially the pharmacy was the only COVID-19 vaccination centre in the town of about 1,000 people.
Now authorities are trying to include the GP clinic, which is attached to the hospital, in the roll-out.
“However, given the nature of our transient doctor population, the logistics for this are proving a little difficult and, as a result, at the moment we are the only ones vaccinating,” Ms McLennan said.
“They are working to resolve this and I’m sure they will get there eventually.”
Ms McLennan said the pharmacy’s workflow system had to be adapted to enable the delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“The team at Guild Digital worked really hard and got us up and running and live for our very first day of vaccinations, so people could book online from day one.
“Each vaccination takes time. Between the online bookings and phone bookings we do 15-minute consultations with the pharmacist with the proviso that patients will turn up, do their reading, look at their consent forms, see the pharmacist and then wait back outside.
“Because we are going one vaccinator and one patient at a time it means that we have a limited number of people who are overlapping and waiting outside after they have finished.
“Our vaccination room was already set up and functioning as we had been delivering flu vaccinations since March, so that was fine. We just now do the flu vaccine on other days to when we do the COVID vaccinations.”
Ms McLennan said that with the efficient booking system, the pharmacy has been able to allocate time for walk-ins.
“Between 4 and 5 on a Monday or a Wednesday, if you come in here and you are eligible, you will be offered the opportunity to engage in a vaccination.
“Everybody has been really good with that. Some people haven’t realised that we are doing it, some people just haven’t bothered so they are really taking up the opportunity that is there.
“It is really good to be able to offer some flexibility during the day when people come in and they say, ‘Have you got a spare one today?’
“So that’s really helping to ensure we minimise our wastage, which is important I think to make sure we have got the right number of people coming through our clinic everyday so that we are not breaking vials open that we are just going to end up throwing out afterwards.”
Ms McLennan advised pharmacies looking to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to be realistic about how it is going to work in their store.
“We had the opportunity to purchase certain things that would help us... to buy bits of printed media, marketing tools that we could use but none of it just works directly for us, so I think step-by-step from when the patient walks in the front door.
“How am I going to treat them, where am I going to put them, where will they sit, where do they get their information, which staff members need to be trained, who is going to have what roles?
“You want to give the patient the best experience because moving forward government-funded vaccines would be great in pharmacies, so I think it’s important to get this right the first time round.”
Contact: The Guild