The Australian College of Nursing has called on the government to grant it extra funding to train an extra 10,000 health professionals in immunisation, ahead of the much-hoped for rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine next year.
While a vaccine candidate is yet to be confirmed as safe and effective, the Australian government has already inked deals for two candidates, promising all Australians will be able to get the vaccine for free.
As part of the announcement that $1.8 billion would be spent on the vaccines, the government also announced it would develop a COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy, which would cover everything from where and how a vaccine would be manufactured, down to how it would get out to Australians.
Chief executive of the Australian College of Nursing Kylie Ward wants training for nurse immunisers to be part of the plan. The college, which represents about 9000 nurses, asked the government for $3.6 million in the federal budget for another 10,000 places in its immunisation course straight away, to boost the workforce capacity to deliver a potential vaccine.
The course wouldn't just be open to nurses, but would be available to other healthcare professionals and would then mean tens of thousands of professionals would be on the college's books when an update specific to the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.
"Immunisers have to update their training very year to keep current, it's likely that we would also do the work to provide free education for those current immunisers to get the update," Ms Ward said.
A record number of Australians got the flu vaccine in 2020; 7.3 million people had it by the end of May. Ms Ward said the potential rollout of a COVID vaccine would be on a scale unlike anything seen in Australia before and would need to ensure it had as many qualified people as possible.
"We could start to educate people now and it would take a month or two and they would ready."
While many Australians tend to look in the other direction when getting injections, professionals say the requirements of every vaccine are different, from storage and transport to administration. Not every injection is the same.
The president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, George Tambassis, said the almost 6000 pharmacies he represented were ready and willing to be part of a potential vaccine rollout, and had already been consulted by state and federal governments.
"The majority of those pharmacies have consulting rooms now where we can safely, privately, and confidentially administer a vaccine where it becomes available, under all the best possible practices," he said.
"We've been part of the planning and we think we're part of the solution."
Mr Tambassis said he was confident in government preparations so far, and said meetings the Pharmacy Guild had been involved in had covered transport and storage requirements for different types of vaccines.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the union representing almost 300,000 nurses and other health professionals, hasn't yet been consulted on the workforce requirements for a rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine, but assistant national secretary Lori-Anne Sharp said that was because there was still a long way to go.
"There's many in the workforce we could draw on to rollout a program if it was well coordinated," she said.
While progress on vaccine candidates is moving at a fast pace, Ms Sharp warned that Australia couldn't put all its eggs in the basket of a successful vaccine, knowing previous vaccines have taken years to develop.
She said it was important that in any rollout, only qualified professionals were used, as nurses took a holistic approach to care, had background knowledge needed for pre-vaccination screening and infection control.
"Any registered nurse, it's within their scope of practice to give a vaccine," Ms Sharp said.
"If you're a nurse who works in a GP practice for example it's within your scope of practice to give vaccines without having to do a vaccine course."
Ms Sharp said it was important that the knowledge of workers on the ground contributed to any decisions on a rollout.
"My concern would be the closer we get to knowing we do have one, they do consult with the workforce. It's really important they consult the workforce, using expert voices of people who are already rolling out successful vaccination programs."