PHARMACIST Krysti-Lee Rigby can’t say for sure what the next flu season in Bathurst will bring, but she has the stats to tell the story about the 2018 season.
“It was certainly much better than previous years that we’ve seen,” she said.
“We saw a reduction in the number of people coming into our pharmacy looking for cold and flu products and we also saw a reduction in the number of people who presented with prescriptions for Tamiflu, which is the medication prescribed for people who are diagnosed with influenza.
“In 2017, we dispensed it 27 times, whereas in 2018, we only dispensed one box.”
Ms Rigby is the pharmacist in charge at Moodies Pharmacy and the vice president of the NSW Branch of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.
“We also noticed that a lot of people who were older were not coming in as much requesting cold and flu products, which is really good,” she said.
The Federal Government made new enhanced vaccines available in 2018 for those aged 65 and over under the National Immunisation Program, which provides free vaccines to eligible people.
In NSW, only GPs are able to provide the free NIP.
“In Victoria and Western Australia, pharmacists are able to provide the NIP, so I would like to see that happen in the future [in NSW],” Ms Rigby said.
That change, she said, would mean patients are getting the same services no matter where they live.
“I also think the reason for the drop in influenza, especially in Bathurst, was the number of pharmacies providing a vaccine service,” Ms Rigby said.
“Just in our pharmacy alone, we did 250 influenza vaccines in 2017 and then in 2018 we did over 350.
“And the majority of those patients, we found, were people who have never had one [a vaccine] before or they got one a few years ago, but they didn’t get one in 2017.
“It  was a bad flu year, so they decided to come back and get it again.”
Ms Rigby said she understood some GPs and doctors were worried about pharmacists giving flu vaccinations.
The Australian Medical Association’s Dr Tony Bartone, for example, said in 2017 that having the influenza vaccine at a pharmacy was the “second-best option” for patients because it reduces opportunities for regular health checks and preventative care.
But Ms Rigby said pharmacists were providing an additional service, rather than a replacement service.
“From the people that we have seen coming in requesting the influenza vaccine, it’s people who don’t go to the doctor or they’re not eligible for the free vaccines on the NIP,” Ms Rigby said.
She said it was also important to remember the flu vaccine was not a “one-off”.
“It’s important to get the message out that you need to get the influenza vaccine every year,” she said. “It’s not a one-off and then you’re protected forever.”
Nationally, 52,000 cases of influenza were reported in 2018 compared with nearly 250,000 cases in 2017.
The number of deaths was also down significantly: from 1137 reported in 2017 to 73 in 2018.