Utilise pharmacists and GPs to strengthen COVID-19 vaccination effort

THE National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme should involve pharmacists and general practitioners (GPs) as immunisers to bolster the upcoming nationwide vaccination drive.

Commenting on today’s launch of the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme guidebook by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib hopes the Government will leverage pharmacists and GPs as immunisers to ensure the programme’s success.

Azrul Mohd Khalib

“We hope that the Government will see this programme as an opportunity to mobilise and work with the private sector, specifically pharmacists and GPs, to be immunisers who are a vital part of the programme’s workforce,” he pointed out.

“With the Government targeting 126,000 people to be vaccinated per day, this should be an all-hands-on-deck approach,” hem pointed out.

In this regard, Azrul added that the public health system should not and cannot be expected to shoulder the burden alone, especially when it is dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic at the same time.

Moreover, an efficient roll-out to combat the pandemic involving pharmacists and GPs will free up doctors and nurses for treatment, and draw on their existing capacity in patient care, health education and vaccination advocacy, according to research officer and registered pharmacist at the Galen Centre Winnie Ong.

Winnie Ong

“Compared to front liners in Phase 1 who are attached to their work stations, reaching the target population distributed far and wide across the community in Phase 2 will be a formidable challenge,” projected Ong.

“For the most vulnerable to severe illness – at least 7.5 million of the elderly, the disabled, and people with selected chronic illnesses – completing the two-dose regimen is an urgent task. Every delayed vaccination will cost lives.”

While deploying pharmacists and GPs to vaccination sites could be one mechanism to scale up the workforce to deliver the estimated 75,000-150,000 jabs required a day, the other is to implement pharmacy-based vaccination programmes where trained and accredited community pharmacists deliver vaccinations on their premises, suggested Ong.

“Alongside GP clinics, this makes it more convenient for eligible residents nearby to access their jabs, prevent overcrowding of vaccination sites, besides allowing the public sector to have enough resources for outreach to remote pockets and aged care homes,” she stresses.

“Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Johor – accounting for over 60% of the country’s community pharmacies in 2016 – are populous states in which such an approach can increase the speed of coverage.”

According to the International Pharmaceutical Federation data in 2020, at least 36 countries around the world depend on pharmacists as part of its immunisation workforce.

Last month, the Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang made the same call, urging the Government to rope in community pharmacists as immunisers with the authority to administer the COVID-19 vaccines to the public.

Citing International Pharmaceutical Federation’s (FIP) data compiled last year, the veteran pharmacist said at least 86 countries have roped in community pharmacists for vaccine advocacy and awareness.
“They play an active role in administering vaccines in at least 36 countries, while this has been proposed or is undergoing development in another 16 nations.

“One of the key levers for increasing vaccination rates among people is by making it convenient and accessible. It is easy to see the significant role community pharmacists can play in this,” Amrahi opined.– Feb 16, 2021

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