Switching over travel immunization clinics may take a year
Until details are mapped out, residents will continue to get their travel vaccinations at public health offices in Saskatchewan.
On budget day, the province announced travel vaccination clinics will transition from public health offices to private providers such as pharmacies and physicians.
This year’s provincial health budget is focusing on funding core services — services all provinces provide in their publicly funded systems.
“In a difficult budget year, we looked at a variety of things that could help us return to our core and this was one of those services, knowing that our neighbouring provinces already have pharmacists and physicians playing a key role in their travel vaccine services,” said Kimberly Kratzig, assistant deputy minister at the Ministry of Health. “It’s just a natural transition for Saskatchewan as well.”
There will be savings as a result of the transition, which could take up to 12 months to complete. However, Kratzig couldn’t say how much money will be saved. That will be determined by the number of public health nurses impacted by the change.
Currently, the number of public health nurses who immunize travellers amounts to about 15 fulltime equivalent positions.
“The impact on all of those staff is unknown at this point as we plan a very thoughtful transition to pharmacies and physicians,” Kratzig said.
Because travel immunization isn’t covered by the Ministry of Health, the programs are run by regional health authorities.
Depending on the location of clinics, some public health nurses work exclusively on travel services. But in other areas, public health nurses only spend a portion of their time providing travel vaccinations.
“We’re doing some of that precise planning with our partners in the regional health authorities as we go forward,” Kratzig said.
Prior to the transition, many issues must be figured out — including accessibility.
“For children under five, pharmacists typically have not been delivering those vaccines in other areas, so we would want to ensure access to those people,” Kratzig said. “We want to ensure readiness in our pharmacists as well so they are ready and trained appropriately through the regulatory college to provide the service.”
She wouldn’t speculate about whether travel vaccinations would cost more or less when done by physicians or pharmacists, but she expected providers would be competitive in providing the service.
“We’re hopeful that this will mean improved access for residents, as there are pharmacies in many more locations than there are travel clinics currently,” Kratzig said.
“Pharmacists are already an integral part of our flu vaccine program,” Kratzig said. “They gave just over 90,000 flu vaccines this past year, which is up about 63 per cent from the year previous, so certainly pharmacists are experienced in delivering vaccines. In other provinces, they’re already providing key vaccine services as well.”
Given the transition is a work in progress, it’s unclear what training pharmacists will require, said Ray Joubert, registrar of the Saskatchewan College of Pharmacy Professionals.
“We know from where this is happening in other jurisdictions that it is an area that requires highly specialized training in terms of travel health, travel medicine and travel vaccinations,” he said. “Until we know exactly what we’re dealing with, it’s pretty hard to speculate on what training will be required ... It’s one thing to administer a vaccination for hepatitis if you’re going to Mexico, but it’s another thing to know what vaccinations are needed if you’re travelling to other parts of the world where there’s tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever.”