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26 Apr 2017

The AMA has expressed concern that pharmacists will be able to administer flu shots to adults this winter.

This is the first year pharmacists Australia-wide are allowed to give the vaccinations, but the practice has been permitted in some States and Territories for up to two years.

With winter and the 2017 flu season fast approaching, pharmacists across Australia are preparing to administer the vaccines to adults.

But AMA Vice President Tony Bartone said getting the jabs from a local chemist was only a “second-best option”.

He said while it might seem convenient to duck into a pharmacy, patients could lose out on vital consultations with their GPs.

“It is about ensuring the best possible standard of care is applied rather than an acceptable or passable standard of care,” Dr Bartone said.

“If there was an adverse reaction in the retail space, it would be challenging at best and very problematic at worst.

“It is an extremely safe process, but we run the risk of overlooking and over-simplifying something that does carry a very low but inherent risk.”

Dr Bartone added that some patients, especially men, might reduce regular visits to GPs if they can get their flu vaccinations at pharmacies.

He also expressed concern at how cheaply some pharmacies are offering the shots for (usually between $15 and $25, but as low as $10 in some cases), suggesting it was part of a marketing push by discount chain stores.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the cheaper the cost of the vaccination, the less privacy the patient receives, with some instances reported of pharmacists giving the shots on the shop floor by the counter and in full view of other customers.

The better pharmacies provide private rooms and health questionnaires before administering the shots.

They also have agreements with nearby medical centres in case of difficulties such as adverse reactions.

Up to one in ten adults are infected by influenza annually, while about three in ten children are infected.

It causes 1,500 to 3,500 deaths in Australia each year, usually from direct viral effects such as viral pneumonia or complications from secondary bacterial infections.

From 2016, the quadrivalent flu vaccine (QIV), which protects against four strains of flu, became publicly available and funded.

Prior to that, the trivalent vaccine (TIV), which protects against three strains of flu, was the vaccine used in Australia for many decades.

QIV and TIV were both available last year, but this year only QIV is on offer.

The Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee reviewed data relating to the flu strains circulating in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere in the 2016 winter and subsequently made new recommendations for vaccines.

They urged the Therapeutic Goods Administration to adopt the World Health Organization recommendations for the strains to be covered by the 2017 seasonal influenza vaccines.

While some health advocates support the wider availability of and access to flu shots, all agree that nothing should replace regular visits to the doctor.

Chris Johnson



Published: 26 Apr 2017