The Moderna Vaccine Rollout Begins and Could Revolutionise Community Pharmacies

Pharmacists are beginning to deliver Moderna jabs across the country as a million doses of Australia’s third vaccine arrived over the weekend.

Australia has committed to purchase 25 million doses of the vaccine known as ‘Spikevax’ made by the American pharmaceutical company Moderna. 10 million are set to arrive this year, with a further 15 million next year designated as booster shots.

The vaccine is targeted at those in the younger age groups for whom Pfizer has only recently been made available.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has said that “The additional Moderna vaccines will provide more opportunities for Australians to get vaccinated, including those aged 12-15 who recently joined the rollout”.

“I encourage anyone who hasn’t received a COVID-19 vaccine yet to book one today.”

The vaccine is currently being delivered to over 1800 pharmacies across the country, a number that is expected to double over the next few weeks.

Pharmacy groups are hoping that the distribution of Moderna through community pharmacies will “revolutionise” the way that Australians view and interact with their local healthcare suppliers.

Pharmacy Platform’s General Manager Andrew Pattinson says while pharmacists across Australia have been administering the AstraZeneca vaccine since June, the addition of the mRNA Moderna vaccine, which will only be available at pharmacies, will be a game-changer.

“SPIKEVAX is now TGA-approved for ages 12 and above, so pharmacies will be welcoming a younger cohort of vaccine recipients as the first 1,200 cohort of pharmacies begins administering the vaccine this week,” Andrew says.

“Our members will be prioritising ages 12-59 for the SPIKEVAX while continuing to offer AstraZeneca to the over 60s.

“Activating pharmacists to deliver the vaccines free-of-charge eases pressure on the health system and frees up local GPs. Non-Covid-19 patients still need care to manage diabetes, asthma and other conditions.”

Need for a Long-Haul Solution

Moderna vaccine australia
Image: The first batch of Moderna vaccines arrive at Sydney International Airport / Getty Images.

Andrew says that existing national vaccine hub networks aren’t long-term solutions, which is why “the government is looking to existing networks, such as community pharmacies, to provide efficient, reliable, and accessible options for Australians beyond this moment”.

“Based on what we’re seeing overseas, we can assume we’ll need booster shots although it’s still unclear when or how often,” Andrew explains.

“The term ‘living with Covid-19’ is thrown about with a casualness that suggests this virus won’t require a sustained effort to manage, which from all indicators seems unlikely.

“Pharmacists will become long-haul health providers, so just as we’re looking at burnout among first responders and hospital staff, Pharmacy Platform is already putting in place extra resources to ensure our pharmacists are fully supported with training, coaching and ongoing access to the latest industry information across our Advantage, Pharmacy Catalyst and Chemist Discount Centre (CDC) brands.”

Pharmacists Fast-Track the Rollout

Pharmacy Platform’s Programs and Services Manager Krysti-Lee Rigby, who is also a pharmacist delivering the jab at her local pharmacy, says since the Federal Government activated pharmacists to partake in the vaccine rollout, vaccine uptake has grown exponentially.

“Already Pharmacy Platform’s member pharmacies have vaccinated 21,482 people since August 1 with just the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Krysti-Lee says.

“Pharmacy Platform’s Narromine Pharmacy located in NSW’s Central West holds the national record for delivering the most vaccines within a rural area having single-handedly vaccinated more than 1,400 locals and recently being recognised by MedAdvisor.”

With 95 per cent of Australians living within 2.5km of a pharmacy, Krysti-Lee says allowing families to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations at their local pharmacy “just makes sense”.

“Pharmacists are capable of doing so much more than filling scripts and advising on the best shampoo to treat hair lice,” she says.

“They’re highly skilled health providers with deep knowledge and expertise – the pandemic is illuminating that.”

“Pharmacies also allow walk-ins, which works well for spontaneous millennials or those who’ve experienced difficulty trying to book online or call a hotline. There’s a huge convenience factor for shift workers as most pharmacies are open for late trade seven days per week.”

Lower ‘White Coat’ Effect Leads to Higher Vaccine Rate

The key to raising vaccination rates is building trust within sceptical communities. Earlier this year, Roy Morgan’s trust barometer listed pharmacists as the third most trusted profession in Australia.

According to Krysti-Lee Rigby a reduced “white coat effect” may have played a role in the successful vaccine uptake of pharmacy-delivered vaccines and broadened the age range of appeal.

“The ‘white coat effect’ gets its name from doctors and medical staff who wear white coats in clinical settings that can trigger anxiety levels that clinically raise blood pressure,” Krysti-Lee explains.

“While we know that higher levels of COVID-19 circulating in the community, particularly in NSW, has contributed to accelerated vaccine uptake, we also think access to approachable pharmacists has played a role.

“You don’t need to make an appointment to chat with your pharmacist, so it can feel less daunting approaching your local pharmacist for a chat if you have questions or concerns about available vaccines.

“Pharmacists are trained to be non-judgemental, empathetic listeners, which can help those who may be vaccine-hesitant. Customers can start with a chat and then go away and think about their options without feeling pressured.”

How to Book the Moderna Vaccine

The Moderna vaccine will be available from this week at community pharmacies and chemists across the country.

In order to book an appointment, get in touch with your local chemist to see if they have supply and are taking bookings at the moment.

You can also check the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine booking finder to find your nearest participating chemist.

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