Vaccines have long been available from GPs and nurses. But in recent years, laws have changed to add pharmacists to the list of health professionals who can give select vaccines without a prescription.
This may improve vaccination coverage against the flu, whooping cough and measles. But there’s a chance it could cost you more than if you saw your GP for the same shot.
Before 2014, pharmacists couldn’t give vaccinations in Australia.
Then a pilot study allowed a select group of Queensland pharmacies to offer the flu vaccine.
But in Australia, pharmacists didn’t have the skills and the law didn’t allow it.
Another barrier was the attitudes of other health professionals, such as doctors, that pharmacists couldn’t or shouldn’t give vaccinations.
The Queensland pilot study concluded pharmacists could safely and effectively administer certain vaccines to adults, once they were trained.
This training included how to administer injections and what to do if something went wrong, such as managing anaphylaxis and performing CPR.
State and territory regulations have changed since 2014 and pharmacist vaccination services have quickly grown. In Victoria, for example, the number of pharmacies registered to give vaccines increased, from 36 in 2017 to 489 in July 2019.
What vaccines can you get at the pharmacy?
The rules vary in each state and territory. Generally, if you’re 16 and over, pharmacist immunisers can give you the following three vaccines:
- Influenza (flu)
- Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) – except Tasmania
- Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) – except Tasmania and the ACT.
These are important vaccines that are sometimes needed if adults missed doses earlier in life or have waning immunity. The influenza vaccine needs to be given every year in a short time frame.
There are some further exceptions.
In the Australian Capital Territory, pregnant women can’t be vaccinated by a pharmacist.
Pharmacist immunisers are gradually being allowed to give more types of vaccines. In Western Australia, for example, pharmacists can now deliver the meningococcal ACWY vaccine to those aged 16 and over. This vaccine protects against around half of the strains that cause meningococcal disease in Australia.
It might cost you more
Some vaccines that would be free from your GP, practice nurse or immunisation clinic will need to be paid for if given at a community pharmacy. That’s because pharmacist immunisers aren’t able to access the government-funded vaccines that your clinic can.
Victoria is an exception – pharmacists can give select government-funded vaccines. And in the ACT and WA, the over-65s can access government-funded flu vaccines at pharmacies.
The cost of vaccines at pharmacies varies. In Victoria, for example, the total fee charged for people not eligible for a government-funded vaccination is around $20 for influenza and $43 for pertussis (whooping cough).
Even if the vaccine is free, the pharmacy may still charge a consultation fee.
If you see your GP, they may either bulk bill you for the appointment or charge a consultation fee.
The best thing is to check ahead about any out-of-pocket expenses for vaccination when you make your booking.
Do you need to see a GP?
Pharmacy vaccination increases access to preventative health care, especially for those living in rural and remote areas, where it’s difficult to visit a doctor or clinics are infrequent.
Having pharmacists as immunisers also increases the immunisation workforce capacity for public health responses.
To help address an outbreak of meningococcal disease last year in Tasmania, pharmacist immunisers administered the meningococcal ACWY vaccine to people aged 10 to 21.
But there may be instances when it’s better to go to your GP for a vaccination, for example, if you’re pregnant, have a chronic health condition or need some blood tests related to vaccination. Or you might have other things to discuss with your doctor other than vaccines.
Catherine Tran, senior research officer and pharmacist, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, University of Sydney; Clayton Chiu, public health physician, and Kristine Macartney, Professor, Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Sydney.