New policy gives easier access to necessary vaccinations, Walcha's pharmacists say

CHANGES: Walcha pharmacists Anna and Matthew Barwick are happy to vaccinate people over 16.

CHANGES: Walcha pharmacists Anna and Matthew Barwick are happy to vaccinate people over 16.

Walcha residents over 16 can now go the pharmacy for whooping cough, measles, and other vaccinations, under the NSW government’s expanded vaccination program.

Matthew Barwick, of King’s Guardian Pharmacy, welcomed the changes introduced on January 1.

“It’s very good, giving people easier access to necessary vaccinations,” he said.

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Pharmacists have been able to give influenza vaccinations to adults (aged 18 years or older) for a couple of years.

Late last year, the NSW government announced that accredited and trained pharmacists can give diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), and the measles/mumps/rubella vaccinations to people over 16. The age for the influenza vaccination was also lowered to 16 years.

This policy has already been adopted in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern Territory.

People eligible for free government-funded vaccines – including children under five years of age; Aboriginal people; those with chronic illnesses; pregnant women; and people over 65 – will still need to access these vaccines via their GP, so they can get a health assessment at the same time.

“It’s expanded the potential vaccinations we can give, and reducing the age means we have greater coverage in the community,” Anna Barwick, pharmacist and lecturer at UNE, said.

Both the pharmacists at King's Pharmacy are trained and able to give the vaccination at any stage without an appointment for a very small fee.

CHANGES: Government changes apply only to children over 16 years. Those under 16 will still have to be taken to a GP to receive their immunisation shots.

CHANGES: Government changes apply only to children over 16 years. Those under 16 will still have to be taken to a GP to receive their immunisation shots.

“This is an opportunity for people who don’t generally go to see a GP, or who don’t have a regular GP, to have these vaccinations done,” Mrs Barwick said.

“It protects the most vulnerable people in our community: the very young, the very old, and the very sick.”

The scheme also gives pharmacists the opportunity to talk to clients about their medications, check their health, and, if necessary, refer them back to their doctor.

While some doctors’ groups – such as the NSW Australian Medical Association – feared the vaccinations could lead to further fragmentation of healthcare, Mrs Barwick believed the changes were “a very good way of connecting us with other health professionals, particularly GPs”.

“Because many people accessing these vaccinations don’t go to a GP anyway, it’s a good way to funnel them in, and improve their health as well,” Mrs Barwick said.

“Getting them vaccinated means we’re preventing disease – and that is the best outcome.”

Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall announced the changes on New Year’s Day.

“People in our region will now have more choice when it comes to vaccination, and that’s a great thing,” Mr Marshall said.

“We know all too well that at times it can be difficult to access a local GP, and those who can, often have to wait.

“That’s why having the option of seeing a trained pharmacist for your vaccination makes things so much easier and quicker.

“It is also a public recognition of the professionalism, training, and experience of our local pharmacists.”

Minister for Health Brad Hazzard said vaccinations had been one of the greatest public health achievements in NSW.

“Now, with this additional range of vaccinations available from pharmacists, we want to encourage new grandparents, carers of infants, and partners of pregnant women to get vaccinated to ensure they don’t catch whooping cough, and pass it on to their babies,” Mr Hazzard said

NSW has achieved its highest vaccination rates ever, spending a record $22.75 million this financial year on state-wide immunisation programs.

“Being vaccinated is so important for the health of our communities, especially our children, and I welcome this common-sense change that will make it easier than ever before for people in our region to get vaccinated when they need it,” Mr Marshall said.