PHARMACISTS and their staff are on the verge of being overwhelmed as they struggle to juggle the Morrison Government's vaccine rollout for children with its adult booster campaign and continual inquires about rapid antigen kits.
This week the Government announced three million vaccines were being distributed ahead of the start of the school year to enable 2.3 million children, including the 5 to 11 years age group, to get their first shot.
While local health district hubs will help, the vaccines are being largely administered by pharmacists and general practitioners.
Peter Smith TerryWhite Chemmart's Kate Gray says it's an added burden on a sector already struggling with its own COVID-19 forced staff issues coupled with the extra workload of the adult booster program - on top of the usual workload that comes with owning a busy community pharmacy.
Ms Gray described the situation in her Summer Street business as an "absolute nightmare".
"The phone just does not stop ringing with people wanting to know whether we've got RATs, or whether we've got paediatric doses, it's just continuous," she said.
"We're completely booked out [for adult booster shots] and we're taking walk-ins on top of our bookings so we can do as many people as we can."
Ms Gray said the pharmacy will begin to administer the Pfizer vaccine for children on Wednesday but the inconsistency of supply is a major concern.
"We've got 100 doses, some pharmacies didn't get any," she said.
"We will get another 100 at the end of next week but the demand is way, way outstripping supply and you get all these harassed parents coming in or ringing me up ... it's just a nightmare."
Ms Gray said it's a scenario being played out in nearly every Orange pharmacy.
She added the situation with rapid antigen tests was also adding to stress levels.
"They [Federal Government] have sequestered all the stock so the only RATS available are through the testing centres down at Wade Park or the Showground and the queues there are massive, hours long, and you'll only get a rapid antigen test if you've got symptoms,
"And then ScoMo comes out and says we've got this scheme where concession and pension card holders will be able to get 30 tests in a three-month period, go to your pharmacy and they'll be able to supply it.
"There's not one local pharmacy in Australia who's got any.
"We've got 2000 on back order and last Friday we got six."
Ms Gray said she felt like the government had just "dumped' the vaccination rollout onto pharmacists and GPs and she was also annoyed pharmacists didn't receive the same remuneration as GPs for administering vaccines, prompting her to write to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
"There's a lot of pharmacists who have just hit the wall and they're like, should we continue to do this? A lot of my friends in Sydney have pulled the pin on paediatric vaccines, it's just not worth their while," she said.
"We're doing it because we feel a social responsibility to be able to provide the service. It's really important from my perspective as a community pharmacy that's what we are here for."
Federal member for Calare, Andrew Gee said he had visited Peter Smith TerryWhite Chemmart.
"I've seen first-hand the great work that they're doing providing vaccines and booster shots to many local residents in Orange, which have helped to keep our country communities safe from the virus. I got a booster shot at a local pharmacy last week," he said.
He also acknowledged receiving a copy of Ms Gray's letter to Mr Hunt.
"I have also raised the issue directly with Minister Hunt, and have no doubt he will be responding soon," Mr Gee added.
"Just over a week after the letter was sent, the Federal Government announced an additional incentive of $10 per dose will be paid to pharmacists on top of existing funding."
The additional funding, in place from December 23, 2021, provides greater support and recognises the role played by GPs and pharmacies in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
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