Monday, July 15, 2024

New Zealand Expands Childhood Vaccinations to Local Pharmacies for Greater Accessibility

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Childhood vaccinations became more accessible at local pharmacies in New Zealand starting from April 1, 2024, thanks to a collaboration between Pharmac and the National Public Health Service at Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora. This initiative aims to enhance accessibility to childhood vaccines by enabling eligible pharmacies to order and claim reimbursement for administering these vaccines.

Geraldine MacGibbon, Pharmac’s Director of Pharmaceuticals, emphasized that this collaboration significantly increases the number of healthcare providers who can offer fully funded vaccinations. This expansion will allow pharmacies to provide childhood immunizations, thereby increasing opportunities for whānau (families) to access free immunizations within their communities.

Alana-Ewe Snow, Director of Prevention at Health New Zealand, highlighted the concerning decline in childhood immunization rates in recent years, attributing one of the main reasons to limited access. She noted that the goal is to achieve a 95% immunization rate for children by 2030. Historically, New Zealand’s childhood immunization rates have been below the 95% target, posing a significant risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.

Community Pharmacies in New Zealand Now Offering Childhood Vaccinations for Improved Accessibility

Community pharmacies will now offer an additional option for whānau to get vaccinated, especially for those who cannot access or are not enrolled in a General Practice. Pharmacies are expected to work closely with local general practices, Hauora Māori, and Pacific providers to ensure comprehensive healthcare for children, including the crucial six-week medical check-ups.

Health New Zealand is actively working with pharmacies and local immunization teams to implement this change. Currently, 12 pharmacists have completed whole-of-life upskilling training, and six of these are authorized to administer childhood immunizations under supervision. Despite the busy period for the health sector, a steady uptake of this training is anticipated over the coming months.

This decision is part of a series of changes Pharmac has made to the Pharmaceutical Schedule to boost the vaccinator workforce. In August 2022, authorized pharmacists were enabled to administer the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine (Boostrix). Similar changes were made in 2023 to include the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, meningococcal vaccines, and the varicella-zoster vaccine for shingles. As of May 2024, over 40% of pharmacies have administered at least one of these vaccines.

Childhood Vaccination

Pharmac and Health New Zealand Expand Childhood Vaccinations to Pharmacies, Enhancing Public Health

The inclusion of childhood vaccines in these changes is a significant step forward. MacGibbon expressed excitement about this development, noting that Pharmac’s collaboration with Health New Zealand to increase vaccination rates across the country is a valuable opportunity to improve health outcomes for New Zealanders. The decision to remove restrictions on childhood vaccines followed a joint consultation by Health New Zealand and Pharmac earlier this year, which garnered feedback from the health sector and the public. The consultation raised many important considerations and underscored the sector’s desire to improve childhood vaccination rates.

Pharmacist vaccinators wishing to offer childhood immunizations can access a funded training package to become authorized vaccinators, allowing them to administer vaccines to individuals from six weeks of age. Once pharmacists complete the necessary training and become authorized vaccinators, participating community pharmacies will be able to start providing childhood immunizations.

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This initiative represents a concerted effort by New Zealand’s health authorities to enhance public health by making vaccinations more accessible. By expanding the range of healthcare providers who can administer vaccines, the collaboration between Pharmac and Health New Zealand aims to ensure that more children receive timely immunizations, thus protecting them and the broader community from preventable diseases.

 

Resource: Pharmac, July 03, 2024

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