A CRUCIAL legislation that allows NSW pharmacists to administer the COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been passed, the NSW branch president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) says.
Chelsea Felkai, also a Newcastle-based community pharmacist, said until the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 2008 was amended, NSW pharmacists would be unable to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
Mrs Felkai said while they had been given assurances the legislation would pass before Phase 2A of the vaccine rollout began, time was running out.
"We have a strict formulary of vaccines that we are allowed to administer," she said. "In NSW, we can only administer flu, dTap - that's diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, and measles, mumps, rubella. It requires a regulatory change every time we want to add a new vaccine, and they haven't added it yet.
"We've been talking about this since October, and it's still being talked about."
Mrs Felkai said pharmacists in Queensland could do it. But the legislation still needed to change in NSW given Phase 1B of the rollout was set to begin on March 22.
"We did 2 million flu vaccines in community pharmacy last year - that's 10 per cent of the population of Australia," she said.
"If you want that broad reach again - particularly in regional and rural areas, we absolutely need this across the line."
But Mrs Felkai said the Hunter's pharmacists were prepared all the same.
Many had already done the mandatory three-hour COVID-19 vaccine training, and the "expression of interest" sent out to pharmacies to get involved in the vaccine rollout was "identical" to the one sent out to GPs.
"We have to meet all the same criteria as GPs," she said. "PSA's priority is that pharmacists are getting as much up-to-date information as possible so we can hit the ground running.
"Pharmacists are ready, they are prepared. They have already had to do many vaccines within the pharmacy setting. We are uploading the records to the Australian Immunisation Register, and this is no different, there's just a lot more hype and a lot of talking to the public.
"We are getting questions on a daily basis. Pharmacists, because we are so accessible, have been fielding a lot of those questions and allaying patient's fears around the COVID vaccine."
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Pharmacies will begin administering the AstraZeneca vaccine in Phase 2A of the rollout, covering people aged 50-to-69, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 18-to-54, and all other critical, high risk workers not captured in phase 1.
"And Phase 2B is literally everyone else that is an adult," Mrs Felkai said. "Phase 3 will be kids, or people aged under 18, if that goes ahead. There is a little bit of debate about whether Phase 3 will actually happen yet."
People would need to book in for their COVID vaccine once they become more widely available. They would also need to leave a two-week gap between having a COVID-19 vaccine and the seasonal flu shot.
"The recommendation from ATAGI - the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation - is that the COVID and flu vaccines should not be co-administered, and there should be a minimum of a two-week gap between them," Mrs Felkai said.
"But we need to keep in mind that with the COVID vaccine, they need to come back for the second shot after four weeks too.
"I suspect we'll be pushing for everyone in the general, wider population to come in and get their flu vaccine first while the more critical populations are getting their COVID-19 shots. Then there will be a crossover and we'll go back and do the flu vaccine for people who have had the COVID vaccine, and vice versa."
Mrs Felkai expected the seasonal flu vaccine would become available in pharmacies towards the end of March, early April.
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