Kate Carnell: Why is the government not utilising pharmacies to speed up the vaccine rollout?

Kate Carnell

Former Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell.

Australia desperately needs to lift the rate of vaccination to stop the lockdowns that are killing small businesses. So why are governments ignoring the capacity of local pharmacies to help speed up the COVID vaccine roll out?  

Australia has approximately 6000 pharmacies spread across the country — in rural and regional areas and local shopping centres in all towns and cities. Pharmacies provide a range of health services and advice in addition to prescriptions and other medication.

In recent years, pharmacies have played an important role in the delivery of immunisations, particularly the flu vaccine. In 2020, 3 million Australians had their flu vaccine at their pharmacy.

In a recent expression of interest process, 4000 pharmacies expressed interest in giving the COVID vaccine and were assessed as having the infrastructure, trained personnel and reporting processes necessary.

All health professionals involved in delivering the COVID vaccine must complete a COVID training module and all of these 4000 pharmacies were happy to do this.

However, a new national COVID-19 pharmacy vaccination program approved by health officials will reportedly only include 207 pharmacies across the country, instead of thousands. 

According to The Australian, more than 1250 pharmacies in New South Wales have been approved by the Commonwealth as suitable to deliver the vaccine, but only 20 of these chemists will be included in the expanded pharmacy vaccination program. In Victoria, 511 pharmacies were approved, but only six will be initially included.

Everyone who has had their flu vaccine at their local pharmacy will know that it is easy to make an appointment and the process is quick, easy, and very professional.

All 4000 pharmacies that are trained, have infrastructure and are keen to participate should immediately be included in the COVID vaccine rollout.

Kate Carnell is the former small business ombudsman, former national vice president for the Pharmacy Guild, and former chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She also previously owned and managed her own pharmacy business.

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