Doctors concerned about pharmacists giving flu jabs

Doctors are concerned about a proposal to allow pharmacists to give free flu vaccines to over 65s and pregnant women.

It's proposed pharmacists be allowed to give free flu vaccines to over 65s and pregnant women from next month. Source: 1 NEWS

Until now, only GP practices have been funded to dispense the free flu vaccine to the high-risk groups, but Pharmac is considering a proposal to allow pharmacists to join them in vaccinating the groups too.

Green Cross Health, which represents over 350 Unichem and Life Pharmacy stores nationwide, said it welcomes the news and believes this step will improve public health by ensuring wider community coverage.

"We’re very optimistic this will all go through,” Green Cross Health chief executive Grant Bai said.

"It’s very much around the consumer and the ease they’ll be able to get their vaccine from this season."

The organisation said widening access will help achieve the Ministry of Health target of having 75 per cent of over 65s vaccinated each season, up on the current rate of under 60 per cent.

Pharmacists have administered influenza vaccinations since 2012, but only the unfunded version.

If the Pharmac proposal goes ahead they’d be a lot busier.

"We are training some more of our pharmacists to become accredited as pharmacist vaccinators so we anticipate we’ll be able to cope with the demand," Tower Junction Christchurch pharmacist David Bui said. 

Green Cross says over 200 of its pharmacies nationwide currently have certified vaccine pharmacists in place.

However the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners believes the thinking behind the proposal is flawed.

Its biggest concern is the potential loss of "opportunistic patient care".

"There are a certain number of over 65s who don’t come to the doctor regularly, so when they turn up for an influenza vaccine it’s a chance for us to check blood pressure, find out about other health concerns, look at some moles," Island Bay GP Richard Medlicott said.

Dr Medlicott said there is concern that pharmacists will capture the easy-to-vaccinate patients, leaving GP practices chasing the hard-to-reach.

He also believes the Ministry's new Immunise Now IT web portal for sharing patient vaccine status isn't yet foolproof.

"The IT system is not yet in place so that every person who has their immunisation given in a pharmacy is automatically updated into the G.P practice system," said Dr Medlicott.

Pharmac will need to announce its decision soon, with the influenza vaccine season due to start on April 1.

About 1.2 million New Zealanders were vaccinated in 2016.