A great step forward has been taken in ensuring Western Australia remains free of preventable diseases – pharmacies across the state are now able to dispense common vaccines. Residents will be able to visit their local pharmacy to get shots for illnesses such as whooping cough, meningococcal disease, and measles. However, doctors are not happy about the move, and they might have some valid concerns.
Until now, only registered GPs could administer vaccines. Pharmacies have found themselves at the centre of a tug of war between doctors and the government – one that the government seems to be winning, much to the chagrin of doctors in Western Australia.
The doctors argue that only GPs should be allowed to give out the vaccines and that delegating that power to pharmacists represents a lowering in standards of care. Doctors are used to administering vaccines, they say, and when a vaccine is not administered correctly, it can compromise its effectiveness. They argue that any drop in the quality of care, even a small one, can be devastating when applied over the whole population.
Not Like Injections
The perception of vaccine administration as being just like any other injection raises the risk of it being administered incorrectly. If this lowers the effectiveness by even a percentage point or two, even if the vaccine is still more than 90% effective, the small increase in cases could reach a tipping point for herd immunity.
Pharmacists will be able to administer the vaccines after taking an online course – there is no practical training. Patients have long demanded that pharmacies provide more comprehensive services, and this has partly been driven by the government suggesting it without consulting either pharmacies or doctors.
The move is ultimately being driven by cost-cutting; it is much cheaper for pharmacists to take an online course than it costs to pay a doctor’s salary. There is an argument to be made that this is a good move for patients; as urban populations swell, without a corresponding swell in doctors, many patients are looking for ways to take charge of their own healthcare and not rely on waiting for a doctor’s appointment – especially when they could be waiting for weeks.
This is why we have seen the rise of the online discount chemist in recent years – dispensing medicines to patients through the postal system. This is more convenient for customers than visiting a pharmacy, and often presents them with more choice.
This new change will no doubt be popular with patients. After all, patients who are concerned about the effectiveness of the vaccine given to them of their children can always arrange for their GP to administer it – that’s still an option. However, the concerns of doctors are very real and should be addressed. An online course should never be enough when the procedure in question involves potentially harming a patient. Yes, the risks of harm are small, but fundamentally, no one should be sticking a hypodermic needle into another person unless they have been properly trained.