This Australian university is monitoring vaccine safety through technology
Vaccines aim to reduce our risk to contagious diseases, but research notes that it is “not entirely risk-free”, making the topic of vaccine safety a crucial one. Some side effects are minor and self-limited, but others are associated with rare but serious adverse effects.
As such, ongoing programmes that monitor vaccine safety serve as an important part of public healthcare.
In a bid to enhance the safety of immunisation delivery across Australia, the University of Western Australia (UWA) is leading a pilot programme that will monitor the effects of flu vaccines administered by pharmacists this flu season.
This will be done in partnership with SmartVax, MedAdvisor and the Queensland University of Technology.
According to UWA, when the novel COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, the programme could monitor its effects through pharmacies. It also aims to “fill a void where no surveillance programme exists to monitor the effects of immunisation from in-pharmacy vaccinations”
The programme is supported by a AUS$40,000 grant from the JM O’Hara Research Fund of the Pharmaceutical Society of Western Australia; it will use the established technology from SmartVax and MedAdvisor to create a world-leading immunisation-effects monitoring programme.
Project lead Sandra Salter from the UWA School of Allied Health/Pharmacy said pharmacists had been permitted to vaccinate adults against the flu for many years to improve the health of communities.
“Last year children over the age of 10 were added, as well as other vaccines including measles, mumps and rubella, whooping cough, tetanus and meningococcal,” Dr Salter was quoted saying.
“It is especially important for people to be immunised against flu this year, with overlapping COVID-19 and influenza infections predicted.
“Central to the project is active vaccine surveillance, which is particularly important for vaccines that change such as the flu vaccine, and for new vaccines. For the first time worldwide, a four-strain flu vaccine specifically formulated for people 65 years and older is available and we will be monitoring it, along with all vaccines, in pharmacies.”
Leveraging on technology to monitor the adverse effects of new vaccines
SmartVax uses text messages to monitor the safety of all vaccines given in Australia. It is an established system for vaccine surveillance in Australia – receives data from GP sites as well as local government immunisation clinics and hospital immunisation clinics.
To date, pharmacist immunisers have not been included. However, bringing pharmacists a real-time surveillance system for adverse events following immunisation is essential, said Dr Salter.
In speaking about the project, SmartVax founder and GP Dr Alan Leeb said it serves as a gateway to being able to monitor adverse events for any new vaccine, at the population level.
“Pharmacy will certainly play an important role in the rapid deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine when this does become available, and monitoring the effects will be more important than ever,” said Dr Leeb.
”Patients who receive immunisations at participating pharmacies will automatically be sent text messages to monitor adverse events following immunisation. Pharmacists will then be able provide support when needed.
“Pharmacists will have the capacity to report vaccine safety information back to GPs as well as the WA Health Department. The data collated will not identify individuals, meaning patient details will be kept confidential.”
Meanwhile, MedAdvisor CEO Robert Read said the current COVID-19 situation had really highlighted the critical role of pharmacists and the importance of vaccinations.
“Leveraging digital solutions such as MedAdvisor’s PlusOne pharmacy software and our linkage with SmartVax is a highly effective and scalable way to monitor adverse events and improve medication safety especially when new vaccines are introduced,” he said.
If the trial is successful, the program could be rolled out more broadly across Australia in 2021 in time for a coronavirus vaccine.