105 Cameron Street Launceston Tas 7250

ROSS HART– Australian Labor Party candidate for Bass

Rapid Antigen Tests

ROSS HART, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BASS: Welcome everybody here today to Terry White Chemmart pharmacy here in Riverside, Tasmania. I’m also very pleased to welcome Anthony Albanese here to Bass in Northern Tasmania. A theme today, talking about access to healthcare here in Northern Tasmania, particularly talking with Helen O’Byrne at the pharmacy here, about access to important medicines, including vaccinations and access to rapid antigen tests.
HELEN O’BYRNE, PRESIDENT, PHARMACY GUILD OF AUSTRALIA, TASMANIA BRANCH: Hi, I’m Helen O’Byrne, the owner of Riverside pharmacy along with some other co-owners. I’m also the President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Tasmania branch. And it’s an honour to have the alternative Prime Minister of Australia here today and to show him through our amazing pharmacy that we’ve done a refit in August last year. We’ve had huge challenges over the pandemic and we are just coming through that with lots of support, supporting each other, and all the staff and the owners. We have lots of micro frustrations every day. And we understand that our customers and patients do too. One of them at the moment is of course the access to rapid antigen tests, and the rolling out of the Commonwealth program for concession and pension card holders, which is meant to start on Monday. However, we unfortunately don’t have any stock of rapid antigen tests to be able to offer that community. We are hoping to get stuff in over the coming weeks, but it’s going to be very sporadic. And we don’t actually have any information about when stock will be reliably available. So that’s quite frustrating for ourselves and our staff and our customers. We also are heavily involved in the vaccination program, with the COVID vaccination program, and we vaccinate 40 to 50 patients daily. And we understand that at times it can be quite difficult for patients to get appointments for their booster shot. There’s also lots of confusion about the timing of booster shots and the interval between the second dose and their booster dose reducing to three months and the availability of that at pharmacies, which at the moment where we’re not able to give the three month shots until the seventh of February. Also in Tasmania, unfortunately, pharmacists aren’t authorised to immunise children, whereas they are in every other state and territory. And we urge our state government to change that so that pharmacists can offer access to time for parents to be able to vaccinate their children before they go back to school. So welcome to you today. And thank you for the opportunity.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, it’s good to be here today with Ross Hart, and also with Helen, the President of the Pharmacy Guild, Tasmania. And it is an opportunity for us to thank Helen, on behalf of all the pharmacists here in Tasmania for the work that she and other pharmacies are doing to keep people safe. They do a remarkable job. And pharmacists should have been brought into the vaccination program much earlier. It’s something that Labor called for. We have the absurd circumstance though, that rapid antigen tests should be made available to concession card holders from Monday and yet pharmacists like this one don’t have rapid antigen tests. So they are making them free, but they are not available. This is something that should have been foreseen by the government. It was warned months ago to take action to secure supply of rapid antigen tests. But just like the rollout of the vaccine, it said it wasn’t a race, it was too slow, and it’s too late. And what we’ve seen here is that on Monday, concession card holders will rock up, expect to get access to a rapid antigen test for free and they won’t be able to, because there’s no supply. They simply don’t exist at this pharmacy and in so many pharmacies right around Tasmania, and indeed, right around the country. And that’s a real failure of the Federal Government. People are frustrated at the Federal Government’s performance on rapid antigen tests, where the same mistakes are occurring that occurred with the rollout of the vaccine.
JOURNALIST: So when you’re getting an order of tests come in to the store, how quickly are they selling out?
O’BYRNE: Well, the last lot of tests that arrived in the pharmacy a few days ago sold out within six hours. So they are selling very, very quickly. And it’s very difficult to know how to inform our customers about their availability, given it’s so limited, so we actually don’t take any pre-orders or phone orders, we just ask people to walk in and if they are available then we’re able to sell them to them.
JOURNALIST: You said that you’re waiting about two weeks for the next stock to come in, what has the wait time been like for each lot of rapid antigen tests?
O’BYRNE: The frustrating thing is that we actually can never tell how long the wait will be. We submit our back orders and then it’s just a lottery to know if and when they might turn up. So each day we just wait at 11 o’clock when our delivery comes and just with our fingers and toes crossed and hope that they’re going to arrive. And when they do arrive, we have no idea about how many will arrive. We obviously have 1000s on backorder. But at the moment, we only get them in dribs and drabs, you know, 40 at a time.
JOURNALIST: Are you being given any support to try and help get those rapid tests, especially considering you’ve been told by the federal government that you’ll be the retailer.
O’BYRNE: Really, no. It’s up to each individual business owner to make their orders or their pre-orders or their back orders. Most of us use our wholesalers, and apparently they are trying hard to source them. But again, like everybody, I believe that their orders are sometimes being cancelled, and they are unable to deliver on their promises. So it’s quite a difficult time.
JOURNALIST: There’s been a few rumours that sometimes the Federal Government has taken orders. Those are, from what I’ve seen, fairly unverified. Have you been told by a wholesaler or supplier that that’s what’s happening with your order?
O’BYRNE: We’ve been told multiple times that our back orders have been cancelled. And when we’ve inquired about the reason, they’ve said that they just can’t secure supply. We’ve never been told directly that it’s because anybody’s taken our stock. So, no, I can’t verify those rumours.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that primary school students won’t have the opportunity to be double vaccinated before returning to school?
O’BYRNE: Yeah, I’m really concerned that primary school children won’t be double vaccinated. I think the primary dose is going to be rolled out quite quickly by the State Health hubs. But I’m very concerned about the second dose because I think that by the time that happens, children will be back at school and parents will be back at work. And it’s going to be really difficult to access those hubs. And that’s where I think it’s really important that pharmacists step in at that time and make that more accessible for our families.
ALBANESE: What Helen’s confirmed to you with regard to supply of the rapid antigen tests to pharmacies is that pharmacists are on their own. And when the Prime Minister announced that rapid antigen tests would be delivered through pharmacies to concession card holders for free, he didn’t say at that time that pharmacists would be on their own securing those tests. The implication was that they’d be delivered. Pharmacists are being told by the Federal Government they’re on their own, just like individual Australians have been told you’re on your own when it comes to getting rapid antigen tests and that’s not good enough.