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Immunisation nurses need the ability to work to their full scope of practice through better funding models to ensure ongoing community access to COVID and influenza vaccines, according to the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA).

Speaking ahead of this week’s World Immunisation Week (24-30 April), Karen Booth, President of APNA, said the federal government needed to take advantage of the enhanced capacity of nurses working in primary care to deliver vaccines to the community effectively.

“Particularly during the COVID period, and [with] the amount of training that nurses have done, we now have, nationally, more accredited nurse immunisers than we have ever had,” Ms Booth said.

Ms Booth said while many primary healthcare nurses were upskilled in immunisation to meet the demands of vaccinating the community against the COVID virus, many were now hindered from practising efficiently and to their full scope of practice, especially vaccinating against influenza. Ms Booth said this was because of funding arrangements such as individual Medicare items and fee-for-service models.

According to Ms Booth, improving funding would allow nurses to harness their full potential in delivering vaccinations to underserved populations.

“We’re talking about a highly-skilled, flexible workforce… and not using that workforce to the best of its ability is a waste of time, resources and investment by the government.”

“Let’s get on with it, make the most of it, and make the most of how they work – that will add to those nurses’ job satisfaction as well.”

Ms Booth also noted that delivering immunisation as a bulk-funded, population focused model, whether nurse-led and onsite in settings like aged care, or as part of the public vaccination hubs seen during the pandemic, would also help nurses practice to a fuller scope.

“Bulk funding as opposed to individual fee for service visit items would be helpful, because that’s more flexible and nurses can just get on with it,” Ms Booth explained.

“We really need to re-think about how we proactively fund population health activities.”

With the flu season upon us and the ongoing management of the COVID pandemic, which is raising public concern about the prospect of ‘flurona’, Ms Booth, who has significant experience with flu vaccination, urged all people to get the jab ahead of winter.

“Every year, people die from the flu, but it’s not sexy, so it’s not reported,” said Ms Booth.

Additionally, children face a heightened risk of both spreading and experiencing complications from influenza, while adults also face a greater risk of health difficulty, Ms Booth suggested.

“The vaccines don’t give you 100% cover, but they’re certainly the best protection…Whether you’re a child or whether you’re an adult, the best protection we’ve got is immunisation.”

World Immunisation Week, an initiative by the World Health Organization, is operating this year under the theme of “One Life For All”. More information on this year’s campaign can be found here.