Calls grow to improve vaccine access for older Australians

Mar 31, 2023
Improving vaccination access could improve health outcomes of older adults. Source: Getty Images.

According to a new report by GSK Australia, the potential benefits of revamping Australia’s National Immunisation Program (NIP) to safeguard older citizens against illness could provide a much-needed boost to the country’s healthcare system.

The report, titled Risk to Resilience: A roadmap to vaccine access for older Australians, was launched at Parliament House on Thursday, March 30, and highlighted the advantages of increased government investment in advanced vaccines and improved accessibility through a restructured NIP with a focus on the elderly.

The study’s findings indicated that regional Australians, low-income groups, and residents of South Australia and Tasmania would benefit the most.

In addition to identifying barriers to vaccination, the report calls on governments to partner with industry, technical experts, healthcare professionals and consumers to:

  • Reform reimbursement systems and processes to recognise the value of vaccines and disease prevention.This includes: Pathways to support faster access to appropriate vaccines for Australians where there is a need and recognising the health outcomes and subsequent productivity gains that accrue over a lifetime.
  • Prioritise adult vaccination in delivery of the NIP, drawing on the success of the childhood vaccination experience. This includes: New adult immunisation schedule, awareness and communications activities, boosting the accessibility of vaccinations, defined immunisation rate targets.

Professor Robert Booy, Honorary Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Sydney said that Australia has the potential to set a global example by creating and financing an immunisation program that considers the needs of its ageing population.

“The NIP has been providing funded vaccines to Australian babies and children for decades and has achieved remarkable results with diseases like polio, measles and rubella almost eliminated,’’ Booy said.

“We know what works, let’s use the NIP to remove known barriers to vaccination for Australian adults like accessibility, affordability and awareness. Let’s ensure all Australians have access to the latest innovations that will keep them living well for longer and benefitting the community, health system and economy.”

Doctor Sarah Chu, a GP with an interest in preventative health, says that ageing well shouldn’t be determined by where you live or your income.

“Preventive healthcare in Australia shouldn’t be seen as a luxury,” Chu said.

“By improving vaccine access for Australian adults, we can bridge the gap between health and wealth and ensure a healthier future for all.”

As GSK Australia advocates for improvements to the NIP, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) recently called on the Federal Government to make medicines more affordable, while also reducing the administrative burden of prescribing them.

The goal is to free up more time for general practitioners to dedicate to their patients.

The RACGP claim that the May Budget “is an opportunity for the government to reduce cost of living pressures for Australians”.

Some of the reforms the RACGP proposes include:

  • extending the length of prescriptions to save patients money and time;
  • allowing a larger supply of medicines in one go – a two-month supply would halve dispensing fees, which cost taxpayers $1.67 billion in 2021-22;
  • investigating the benefits of removing the $1 discount rule, which caps discounts on medicines;
  • overhauling Australia’s anti-competitive pharmacy ownership and location laws which inflate costs for patients;
  • make prescribing faster and easier for GPs so they have more time for patient care by streamlining the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS) prescribing system, which is unnecessarily complex.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins explained that Australia has “a cost-of-living crisis and a health system crisis on our hands”.

“People across Australia are feeling the crunch and struggling to access or afford the healthcare and medicines they need,” Higgins said.

“But there are simple reforms the government can and should make that will save patients’ money and time, as well as freeing up GPs so we can see more patients, and reducing the overall healthcare budget.

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