A leading GP has called out the Morrison government’s “bizarre” vaccine decisions, and urged anyone waiting for a certain jab to get vaccinated now or risk ending up at the back of the line.
It came as a survey showed rising vaccine hesitancy in Australia, just as the country ticks over two million vaccinations, and Olympic athletes were allowed to skip the queue to get jabs ahead of the Tokyo Games.
This daily infographic provides the total number of people vaccinated in Australia as of 27 April 2021. Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccine information here: https://t.co/TUKfzVuGVm #COVID19vaccines #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/wdi3hEmJsG
— Australian Government Department of Health (@healthgovau) April 28, 2021
On Tuesday night, a Senate inquiry into Australia’s COVID response heard concerns from the Royal Association College of General Practitioners and Australian Medical Association about the stuttering national vaccine rollout.
The RACGP’s NSW and ACT chair, Dr Charlotte Hespe, questioned how the federal government was distributing doses to health clinics. She said she knew of larger GP clinics with substantial patient lists getting only small numbers of shots, while smaller practices often got hundreds.
Dr Hespe said her own clinic, with 8000 patients, was getting just 50 vaccine doses a week, while a nearby practice with a single doctor received 400.
“There does seem to be a rather bizarre way that the vaccine numbers are being allocated around the country,” she told the inquiry.
“While we’ve still got a lot of the older patients and people with medical conditions, I would just beg really that the numbers of vaccine to those standard practices [increase].”
Dr Hespe said vaccine supply had been a “bugbear” for doctors, and was plagued by issues not seen in other rollouts – including annual flu jabs.
“We do this with the flu each year and it’s smooth, it’s efficient and it just happens,” Dr Hespe said.
But, despite her concerns about logistics, she urged people to have more confidence in the vaccines Australia has procured. There are fears that some people who are eligible for the AstraZeneca shot are intentionally putting it off, hoping to instead get the Pfizer vaccine later in 2021.
AstraZeneca is recommended only for over-50s, following an update on Australia’s official medical advice. The Pfizer shot is recommended only for those younger than 50.
Pfizer has a slightly higher efficacy rate, and is thought to have better protection against new COVID variants. Combined with recent concern about a handful of blood clot issues in people receiving the AstraZeneca jab, anecdotal evidence suggests some older people want to avoid that shot and are hoping to take advantage of the millions more Pfizer vaccines due in Australia later in 2021.
Dr Hespe urged caution for anyone considering this.
“You’ll be at the lowest list of the priority,” she said.
“All of those under 50 will be prioritised for Pfizer when it does come in. It’s exactly that conversation of trying to decide what’s the risk for you.”
Dr Hespe acknowledged that people aged 50 might have reservations about which shot they got.
“The difficulty around the age of 50 is that you’re the cut-off mark. It’s like anything, you have to have a cut-off, and so 50 was deemed when that balance lies. But if you look at the risk stratification between the ages of 40 and 60, it’s not that at 50, you radically change [risk] from 49, so that’s why it’s difficult for some people,” she said.
“I think everybody has a right to decide they’d rather wait 12 months to access another vaccine, if they wanted to, whereas strictly, they’re better off to get the AstraZeneca now.”
Senator Jacqui Lambie, who was questioning Dr Hespe, said “me and my mates who’ve all just turned 50 … are not lining up for AstraZeneca”.
On Wednesday, an Essential poll of 1090 Australians found 16 per cent would never get vaccinated, up four percentage points from March.
Women aged 18-34 were most likely to say they would not get the jab.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said “sensationalist” reporting of possible side effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine had been unhelpful.
“It’s absolutely critical that we’re all working together to bolster public confidence in the vaccine,” he said.
Dr Khorshid said it was important to be “transparent” about vaccines, but said information should be given out responsibly.
In the same hearing, Department of Health officials confirmed Australia’s 2050-strong team of Olympic athletes and crew would be vaccinated ahead of schedule, in time for the Games in Japan, as they were classed as “Australians deployed overseas on national business”.
Their vaccinations will be delivered by a “private contractor” and the Australian Olympic Committee will likely be required to fund bespoke quarantine arrangements on return from Tokyo. Sports Minister Richard Colbeck said Olympians would not take up spots in hotel quarantine that could be used by returning Australian travellers.
The federal health department announced on Wednesday that Australia had finally hit the two million dose milestone, with a total of 2.029 million vaccinations by the end of Tuesday (April 27).
The federal government’s original goal was four million jabs by the end of March.