Flu shots are being rationed as a shortage of vaccine hits. It is good to hear that millions of Australians have made the effort to be vaccinated.
This is especially so as, for those not eligible through their workplace or the National Immunisation Scheme, getting a flu shot can require some serious dedication.
An increase in demand for the flu vaccine has affected supplies.
Two years ago, my family had to do a three-step process: GP appointment, take the script to the pharmacy, then return to the GP for the jab. Thanks to wait times at each step, the process took nearly two hours.
Last year, still feeling a little bruised, I "kind of" forgot to get the family jabbed. Sure enough, my husband got the flu – yes, the proper flu. We all developed renewed dedication to the vaccination cause.
This year, I heard that suitably trained pharmacists can administer flu vaccines. I reduced anticipatory anxiety by only giving them 20 minutes' notice and scheduled it for during the school holidays. My plan worked – we arrived at the pharmacy completely calm and ready to be vaccinated. Except they couldn’t – pharmacists can’t vaccinate under 18s.
So, for my kids, it was back to the GP-pharmacy-GP option.
This system is inefficient for everyone: individuals, parents, GPs and GP practices. The expertise of a GP is not needed for assessment, nor administration, of a routine vaccination. A doctor’s script is not required.
The cost to Medicare, and to genuinely unwell people trying to see their GP in busy clinics, is considerable. For those attending non-bulk billing practices, out-of-pocket GP expenses are extra to the cost of the vaccine.
Some GP clinics save you the trip to the pharmacy by stocking sufficient vaccine, but I couldn't find one in my area. (In the current shortage, at least one GP clinic has had vaccines taken away by health officials).
Getting a flu shot means you are doing the right thing – for yourself, for others, and for the healthcare system. Doing the right thing should be easier. The way to achieve this is to move flu vaccinations away from the individualised health system and into the realm of public health.
Options include extending pharmacist administration to children, having broadly accessible community immunisation clinics, offering the flu vaccination through schools, and/or all GP clinics running bulk-billed, single-step (likely nurse-led) sessions.
It is great to read that record numbers of Australians have received the influenza vaccine this year. To see numbers climb even higher next year, please make getting a flu shot easier.
Vivienne Pearson is an Age contributor.
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