There was some good news last week on the measles front. Pharmacists have finally been approved to vaccinate for the disease.
It has been two months since the National Party in my name put out a media release challenging the government to permit pharmacists, back when the measles outbreak was at its worst.
Two months is a long time between drinks and on one level it is another case of too little too late that has characterised this outbreak.
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• Calls to allow pharmacists give measles vaccines during outbreak
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Let's explore how all of this happened.
Northland pharmacists and the Pharmacy Society had a key part to play. They had been constructively lobbying me from several weeks and their arguments were sound.
They explained to me that one in four pharmacists were already vaccinating pharmacists and that they were ready and willing to help during the measles outbreak.
Pharmacists can currently vaccinate for influenza vaccine during the winter and are also able to give whooping cough pertussis vaccine to pregnant women.
It seemed to me this was a trained workforce that reached all across the country that was often open outside of normal general practice hours and we were in the middle of an outbreak.
There were two main policy hurdles, none of which I would add stopped me lobbying the Minister and raising it in the house of parliament during question and answer time.
We were at the peak of a serious measles outbreak and we needed to keep moving. The first apparent hurdle was that the measles vaccine was not on a funded schedule for pharmacists.
The payment mechanism was in place because pharmacists are paid to give the flu vaccine to over 65s and pregnant women but the measles vaccine was simply not on the payment schedule.
This then was mostly a policy change and I pressured the minister that it was 30 seconds of her time.
The other hurdle was entering any vaccines that would be given on the National Immunisation Register (NIR). It is a story for another time but I was very surprised and concerned to get a reply from the minister recently saying that our much-vaunted immunisation recording system (NIR) only has a third of given vaccines entered into it.
This needs some serious scrutiny. The solution for pharmacists however was a software patch that would allow their computer systems to talk to the national system. This is a time and money problem and having worked on exactly this sort of task in Boston a decade ago, it is not at all insurmountable.
Furthermore, one could fax the information to Wellington where I'm sure the data could probably be entered. Let's remember, we were in a serious measles outbreak and we needed to move quickly and be resourceful, something that we New Zealanders are very good at.
Two months later, and the software fix is still to happen, but, the policy has finally been changed and pharmacists can vaccinate for measles. This is a win for everyone.
No one is disadvantaged and importantly for the next outbreak we have a valued and trusted set of health professionals ready to put their shoulder to the wheel to help keep kiwis safe.
This is a big thank you to pharmacists for what do for communities.
• Dr Shane Reti is the MP for Whangārei.