Victorian health authorities have been flooded with people trying to make coronavirus vaccination bookings as millions more Australians became eligible on Monday.
By mid-morning on Monday, the state’s health hotline said it had taken 5000 calls from Victorians eager to book an appointment at a mass vaccination centre.
It is estimated that up to two million more Victorians became eligible for vaccines on Monday with the national rollout broadening to include anyone aged over 50.
There were also issues in the ACT, with eager Australians eligible for the vaccine reporting problems with the territory’s booking system just hours after it went liv.
A spokesperson for ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith confirmed to the ABC the system was experiencing issues recognising Medicare numbers. People were instead urged to call Canberra’s COVID-19 vaccination phone line on (02) 5124 7700 – and to expect long wait times.
Ms Stephen-Smith said Canberra’s clinics would be able to vaccinate 8000 people a week.
“We’re looking really, really good as we go forward for the next few weeks, strong supplies, lots of availability of appointments,” she told the ABC.
“I really encourage people, if they’re eligible, to make an appointment and get vaccinated.”
In NSW – where three million more people can line up for a COVID shot from Monday – state Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the expanded program would be staggered.
“If they all got on the phone at the same time, frustration would be supreme,” he said on Nine’s Today show on Monday.
“What I would want to stress, though, is that in the first instance people with a GP should go to their GP.
“Obviously most of us over 50 … have some sort of health issue and it is far better that you be able to talk to your GP.”
From Monday, people 50 and older can get immunised at a handful of Commonwealth-run respiratory clinics across Sydney.
The state-run mass vaccination facility at Sydney Olympic Park won’t open until next Monday – and then just for those eligible under phase 1 of the vaccine rollout: Frontline workers and their families.
Mr Hazzard wants people 50 or older to wait until May 17 to get a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine from their GP.
Anyone who is eligible and wants to be vaccinated at the facility at Sydney Olympic Park will have to wait May 24.
Victoria also has hubs across the state that will be available for walk-up COVID vaccines and bookings. Some of the larger hubs, such as one at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building, are expected to cater for up to 4000 people a day in coming weeks.
The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is also available for people aged 50 years and over at general practice respiratory clinics and state and territory vaccination clinics.
On May 17, the vaccination program under Phase 2a will be expanded to GP surgeries.
Up to 15.8 million doses are available for this part of the rollout, which includes catching up on any unvaccinated Australians from previous phases.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said regulators and experts were continuing to look carefully at every report of adverse reactions to virus vaccines, including blood clots.
“My clear message is that the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risk. People are seeing what’s happening in India,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
Professor Kelly said the rollout’s objective was to keep Australia safe in navigating the path out of the pandemic.
“An outbreak could happen in Australia so please do not hesitate,” he said.
“This is not a compulsory vaccine so people have their choice but waiting until the end of the year is not advised.”
National COVID-19 Commissioner Jane Halton said Australia needed to catch up on its vaccination rollout to avoid a major outbreak.
“We need to get on with this,” she told the Nine Network.
“The only way that we get out of the pandemic is that we either get the disease or get vaccinated.”
Professor Kelly was coy about reports Australia has been in talks with French biotech giant Valneva about its coronavirus vaccine.
“We’re continuing to have discussions with a range of companies around the world about purchasing any of those,” he said.
Labor has criticised the government for its narrow vaccine portfolio with AstraZeneca and Pfizer the only ones in use. The as-yet unapproved Novavax is expected to join the rollout later in 2021.