COVID vaccine

February 09, 2021

Health Minister Greg Hunt this week announced a $200 million program to fund the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine through pharmacies.

Pharmacies in major cities will be paid up to $42 per person to administer the vaccine which itself will be provided free of charge. In rural and regional areas the payment will be $48 per person.

The federal government will pay 5800 community pharmacies across the country to administer the vaccines for free. The program will start in May and Prime Minister Scott Morrison expects every Australian to be offered a vaccine by October.

COVID-19 is the cause of widespread fatality, illness, and gridlock to industry and travel around the world. Some industries have been decimated, whilst others are struggling to stay afloat in unprecedented times. Returning to normalcy, without future outbreaks, lockdowns, and travel restrictions weighs heavily on the development of the touted solution to the pandemic: a vaccine.

Never before has a race been so globally watched than the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. And now as the rollout begins around the world, the next stage in the process must now be considered. The multi-dose vaccine on its own won’t ensure a post-COVID world: a number of other factors are at play.

Developing a sufficient vaccine is just one pillar of the process: safety, public confidence, adherence, and compliance are all essential. Uniquely, this presents pharmacies with an opportunity to assist in the monitoring and administration to ensure its success.

For the general practice, the requirement to administer a vaccine to 25 million Australians is a unique challenge, which is likely to put immense pressure on GPs and nurses. For the crucial vaccine to be effective, there is an opportunity for pharmacies to assist in the process. Pharmacies, who already successfully administer the flu vaccine, are well-equipped to help meet demand.

Pharmacies are arguably just as successful, when it comes to vaccine administration, as a doctors surgery. For example, in a study completed by SmartVax, in conjunction with the University of Western Australia, vaccine safety monitoring in community pharmacies was considered. The key findings show that pharmacists are as safe as other typical immunisers, like GPs and nurses, when providing immunisations.

The vaccine will require multiple doses, making the process of population immunisation even more challenging. Therefore, monitoring will be essential for a streamlined and effective process. The key question will be: how do we ensure adherence and compliance, so that the vaccine is effective across the population?

Digital platforms, with the capability to monitor people and the number of doses they have completed, will be an essential solution. Take MedAdvisor, for example, who are integrated with SmartVax––an active surveillance system which has the ability to SMS patients for check-ins. The SmartVax service, when used previously, received positive feedback when implemented in community pharmacies. An SMS reminder to a patient will help increase adherence to multiple doses, whilst monitoring will track who has been immunised and when.

The development of an effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine is crucial globally. Pharmacists may hold the key to expediting this process. By allowing pharmacists to administer the vaccine, and not just GPs and nurses, there will be an increase in manpower. Not just that; pharmacies who adopt digital monitoring systems have the opportunity to effectively administer, monitor, and confirm adherence to the vaccine in a safe and effective manner helping return us to a true post-COVID world.

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