Pharmacies 'underutilised' in COVID-19 vaccine rollout - pharmacists

Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast DHBs say they have been working alongside pharmacies across the Wellington region for several months.
Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast DHBs say they have been working alongside pharmacies across the Wellington region for several months. Photo credit: Getty Images

Louise Ternouth for RNZ

At Pakūranga Unichem you can pick up your prescription, and get a COVID-19 vaccine while you wait. 

Six weeks ago, staff here cleared 150 shelves to make way for two vaccination stations - anyone in groups one to three can get the vaccine, with walk-ins available if there are leftovers at the end of the day.

Site lead Vicky Chan explains since then they have had thousands through their doors. 

"I think last we checked we've done just over 7,000 doses of the Pzifer vaccination." 

Most of them were locals. 

"A lot of the patients would be ones that we have always engaged with and have long-term relationships with. 

"Our teams cater for a lot of different languages as well, so that has made it super easy for people to come through and see a familiar face and put a lot of patients at ease she said." 

That was reflected in a packed waiting room, but everyone was happy to wait their turn. 

Lorraine Field lives nearby and has been a customer for 25 years.

Her GP originally sent her to a vaccination supercentre in Highbrook but she says this option was a no-brainer. 

"To be honest I was really nervous, honestly just coming in here and knowing the faces, I feel confident."

Smiles and hugs from Vicky were testament to that. 

Local Sharon brought the whole family along to get their second jab. 

They echoed the enthusiasm of getting vaccinated at their local. 

The team of seven vaccinators work seven days a week 9am-6pm each day - with an early start to prepare all the vaccines. 

And getting your script will not be slowed down. They have set things up to make sure things are still operating as usual.

Manager Peter Guthrie says other vaccination clinics are not accessible for everyone. 

"The size, sometimes it's a bit daunting. They're doing an amazing job looking after a lot of people but there's a lot of issues that go with that."

'We're good to go but DHBS don't want a bar of us' - Wellington pharmacist

In Wellington, some pharmacies have been told, 'thanks but no thanks', when it comes to helping with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Pharmacist Ben Latty said it is an inconsistent approach from health officials. His staff have done the training and can manage high volumes, he said.

"We haven't been given any contracts, to the pharmacy itself. We have, from April onwards, been helping out the doctors above us and administering COVID-19 vaccinations… so I've been personally administering jabs, but not via the pharmacy. 

"We've got six vaccinating pharmacists that can do flu jabs and the likes of that," he told Checkpoint.

"For the COVID-19 jab particularly, we've all been trained up via an IMAC [Immunisation Advisory Centre] course on top of that.

"So we've got everything for the ready to go if we get the call up from the DHB, but currently that just doesn't seem to be happening."

He said they have fridges for vaccines. It is now proven the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine does not need extremely cold storage.  

"Now you can keep it in a normal fridge for up to 30 days, so that allows us a big scope to be able to administer these jabs and not have to throw them out.

"We've got six vaccinators, we've got 100 carparks outside. We've got it all setup, we've got the space. We could even share some of the stock of the jabs with our medical centre to further mitigate that risk of it expiring.

"We're completely good to go. But … the Hutt Valley and CCDHB don't seem to want to have a bar of us, at this stage."

He said his pharmacy had not hear anything by July, which they thought was "absolutely ridiculous".

"We wrote them a pretty firm but friendly email to say: 'Hey what is going on? What pharmacies are being involved? This is our capacity, this is what we can do.'

"Then we got an answer back which went straight to the Official Information Act, which we thought was bizarre."

Latty said they eventually got a reply from DHBs essentially saying they would take care of the rollout themselves, and maybe his pharmacy could help with the final 20 percent of the eligible population in the Wellington region.

"All we wanted was some information, and we would have expected by early July we would have had something."

In a statement Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast DHBs say they have been working alongside pharmacies across the Wellington region on the rollout for several months.

It said pharmacies led the rollout of the vaccination programme across 46 Aged Care Residential facilities in the region.

The DHB is working on establishing vaccination clinics at Unichem in Kilbirnie and a joint centre run by general practices and pharmacy in Porirua.