Canberra pharmacies expect slow start to booster rollout

Capital Chemist Kingston pharmacist Yuh-Lin Gan with some of the Pfizer stock the pharmacy has received for the booster rollout. Picture: Karleen Minney
Capital Chemist Kingston pharmacist Yuh-Lin Gan with some of the Pfizer stock the pharmacy has received for the booster rollout. Picture: Karleen Minney

Canberra's pharmacies are gearing up to administer COVID-19 vaccine booster doses this week, but expect a slower start to the next stage of the rollout.

Capital Chemist Kingston Managing Partner Sandra Ferrington said only about 30 people had flagged their interest in a Pfizer booster so far.

"Part of it is because there is some people are a little bit uncertain about whether they qualify for a booster or not," Ms Ferrington said.

"And it's also to do with it has to be six months after their last vaccine so that is variable for people."

Australia's booster program officially launched on Monday, available to everyone over 18 who has had a second dose six or more months ago.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommended Pfizer be preferred for the booster dose, with pharmacies starting to receive Pfizer doses alongside AstraZeneca and Moderna.

The pharmacy opted to order in a lower threshold of 120 Pfizer doses, instead of 240, for their first round of booster shots.

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"Because we don't want to waste vaccines," Ms Ferrington said.

"We knew that in that initial order that not everyone would be eligible because ... some of the clients that we were talking to had said that they would be eligible in December and January."

Capital Chemist Kingston pharmacist Yuh-Lin Gan with some of the Pfizer stock the pharmacy has received for the booster rollout. Picture: Karleen Minney

Capital Chemist Kingston pharmacist Yuh-Lin Gan with some of the Pfizer stock the pharmacy has received for the booster rollout. Picture: Karleen Minney

"But we're very keen to use the vaccines, not to have them wasted," she said.

The Pfizer doses require staff to be trained further, and Ms Ferrington said the additional vaccine would put strain on the pharmacy.

"I do think it is a challenge to make sure that we have all our processes and policies in place, and getting the stock and the staff trained is a lot of effort," she said.

"Which is why the lack of remuneration makes it a difficult business case."

Some Canberra pharmacists said last week they would downscale their rollouts of the booster doses due to inadequate federal funding.

Pharmacist and Owner of Pharmacy on Northbourne Chris Lawler said he had received his Pfizer doses on Friday and administered six, but had no one else booked in thus far.

"Largely the people that we have administered vaccines to, for the most part, are people that were a little bit later getting their first and second doses."

The branch president of the ACT Pharmacy Guild, Simon Blacker, said that Pfizer stocks had only arrived at his pharmacy on Friday and the take-up from the public was modest.

"We get $16 per shot to cover all our costs and it's just not enough when there's a six or seven-step process involved, from completing the training modules, putting on all the appropriate equipment for a face-to-face, and then do all the supporting and follow-up administration," he said.

"Pharmacists around Australia have really stepped up over the past 18 months during the vaccine program and when you already have a fatigued workforce, it doesn't help when what you're getting paid to administer the booster doesn't cover costs."

This story Why the booster rollout could get off to a slow start first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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