GPs at odds with Pharmac's plan to extend access to childhood vaccines

General Practitioners (GPs) around New Zealand are at odds with Pharmac over a proposal to allow pharmacists to administer more vaccinations to children. 

The Government's pharmaceutical control agency is seeking feedback to remove the "Xpharm" restriction - which prevents pharmacists from being able to administer some funded vaccines - from several jabs for children.

Pharmac's Director of Pharmaceuticals Geraldine MacGibbon says it's a good opportunity to increase childhood vaccination rates across the motu. 

If the proposal is successful, it would mean the Xpharm restriction would be removed from the following vaccines for children from March 1: 

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio vaccine 
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, hepatitis B and haemphilus influenzae type B vaccine
  • Haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine 
  • Pneumococcal (PCV13) conjugate vaccine 
  • Rotavirus oral vaccine 
  • Varicella vaccine [Chickenpox vaccine].

MacGibbon said pharmacies have been a proven way for people to access funded vaccines that aren't restricted, like the COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

Te Whatu Ora is said to be working with Pharmacy and General Practice leaders on the removal of the restriction.

"Childhood immunisation rates have declined in recent years and one of the biggest barriers is access to vaccinators," said Te Whatu Ora Director of Prevention Alana Ewe-Snow.

But GPs organisation GenPro is concerned that the move misses an opportunity to strengthen existing providers.

Chair Dr Angus Chambers says GP clinics offer comprehensive services for childhood immunisations.

"Coming to your General Practice for immunisations also provides the team with the opportunity to check for any developmental or health issues that the child may be experiencing."

Dr Chambers says he understands that a lack of investment in immunisation has led to the problematic levels of childhood immunisation, but believes that additional funding for immunisation and training of more staff should be offered to General Practice before funding a new service that is limited to vaccine delivery.

Ewe-Snow acknowledged the value of GPs.

"Because of the importance of the continuity of care provided by General Practice, we will be working closely with PHOs and Pharmacies to try and ensure that people accessing Pharmacy for their childhood immunisations are those who are unable to get to their General Practice or do not have a GP," said Ewe-Snow.

"Removal of the Xpharm restriction on childhood immunisation is the first step in the process. A training programme is currently in development to support Pharmacist Vaccinators who wish to upskill and offer childhood immunisations."

To provide feedback on the proposed removal of the Xpharm restriction email by 5pm, Monday 29 January 2024. All feedback received will be shared with Te Whatu Ora.