ANMJ Featured Story

Newly endorsed nurse practitioner boosts expert immunisation service

Wednesday 23rd August, 2017

A Victorian nurse has become just the third nurse in Australia to attain endorsement as a nurse practitioner (NP) in the field of immunisation.

Recently endorsed NP Sonja Elia has worked at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne for more than two decades, spending much of her time as part of its dedicated immunisation team.

“Essentially it’s a drop-in centre,” Sonja explained.

“So families attend the immunisation clinic and are opportunistically immunised while they’re either in hospital for an appointment or they’re a sibling of a patient or anyone who just visits the hospital.”

Sonja leads a team of around eight staff at the service, which also offers a telephone advice line to GPs, parents and the community seeking information on immunisation or the latest vaccines.

A few years ago, Sonja decided to extend her scope of practice by pursuing a master’s degree in advanced practice nursing in order to qualify as an NP and be able to prescribe vaccines without the reliance on doctors.

One recent example involved Meningococcal B, a highly sought after vaccine, where nurses at the unit were forced to refer families back to their GPs in order to obtain a script. “I could really see a deficit in what we were doing in our day-to-day work,” Sonja recalled.

“It just seemed like I could take them [patients] so far and then have to hand them over to my medical colleagues.”

With her new autonomy, Sonja can now offer special risk vaccines to patients including Meningococcal ACYW, Hepatitis A and Meningococcal B.

She claims to have already seen a significant uptake in immunisation rates for Meningococcal B since her commencement as an NP and believes the streamlining will progressively lead to better outcomes and care.

“We are the experts. We are the immunisation service at the Royal Children’s Hospital. GPs call on us for advice and expertise and now we can really close the loop and make sure that kids will get the vaccine and get protected against the disease more timely.”

As a nurse working in immunisation, Sonja said the constantly changing vaccine schedule creates continual challenges yet also offers nurses the chance to utilise their gamut of skills in educating families, sharing knowledge and making accurate clinical decisions.

Sonja suggested the rise in new diseases, for example, Meningococcal W, illustrated why a specialist immunisation service is crucial. “Immunisation concerns have always been the same, they haven’t really changed, and the rate of non-immunisers has always stayed the same, around 3%. But what we are seeing is the schedule’s become a little bit more complicated. We’ve introduced more new vaccines that have all these different rules and regulations around how we give them.”

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