Pharmacists given all-clear to vaccinate babies from next months as immunisation rates lag

By Rowan Quinn for RNZ

Pharmacists will be able to vaccinate babies and preschoolers from the start of next month.

Approval has been granted by Pharmac after Te Whatu Ora/Health NZ sought the change to try to boost lagging immunisation rates.

The pharmacists will have to undergo training first, but will then be able to vaccinate babies from six weeks of age for all the free childhood immunisations on the New Zealand vaccination schedule.

Until now they had been able to vaccinate older children.

Te Whatu Ora said the move was to try to address the drop in childhood vaccinations rates, which were the lowest they had been for years, at 83 percent, and 70 percent for tamariki Māori.

The proposal was formally mooted in January, with Pharmac seeking consultation.

Pharmac said it had only made one change from the original proposal, and that was to allow pharmacists to dispense funded liquid paracetamol when they gave the meningoccocal B vaccination which could cause fevers.

Some GPs had raised concerns families would lose the wrap-around care they get from seeing their doctor when their shots are due.

Pharmac said it had submissions about the six-week check babies and mothers get as they move from midwife to doctor care, often when the first vaccinations are due.

But it had been assured by Te Whatu Ora that pharmacists will be told to enquire whether medical checks have been conducted, and to refer whānau to primary care if they had not.

In a statement, Te Whatu Ora's director of the National Public Health Service, Nick Chamberlain said GPs remained the preferred place for babies to get vaccinations and the new plan was intended to reach those not enrolled with a doctor or who struggled to get an appointment.

"We expect that vaccinating community pharmacies will work closely with their local general practices and Māori Hauora to ensure that babies continue to access important health screening such as the six-week check through general practice," he said.