The ACT is expanding its COVID-19 vaccination rollout to include Canberrans between the ages of 40 and 49, making 60,000 more residents eligible for the vaccine.
From Thursday, Canberrans in that age bracket can book online at the Garran Surge Centre to receive the Pfizer vaccine.
ACT Health said the online booking system has been improved and additional staff would be brought in to keep the phone booking line open for longer.
But health authorities have urged those now eligible under the expansion to be patient and prepare for “supply constraints”, which could slow the rollout.
Supply shortages to hamper rollout
Thursday’s expansion has made 60,000 Canberrans eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, in addition to the estimated 100,000 doses already administered in the ACT.
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said she would receive her vaccine on Thursday, but not everyone will be able to get theirs immediately.
“At the moment, we’re sitting on a supply of vaccine of somewhere between about 14,000–16,000 [vials], depending on how many doses you can get out of those vials,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“The projected amount of Pfizer that we’re going to receive every week from the Commonwealth is between about 6000–7000 doses.”
But Ms Stephen Smith said the Garran Surge Centre could only administer around 8000 doses per week.
“That is the constraint on what we can do,” she said.
“Of course, not everybody is going to be able to get vaccinated in the first week, but we do encourage people to get online and to book in an appointment, even if it’s in two, three, or four weeks’, time that would be really helpful.
“It also helps us to know what the demand is like.”
‘Improvement’ to online and telephone booking systems
To deal with the expected uptick in bookings, ACT Health said it had made improvements to the online and telephone booking systems.
ACT Health said telephone bookings had accounted for more than half of the ACT’s vaccination bookings, and that extra staff will be used to extend phone line hours from 7am–7pm every day.
Thursday’s expansion came after ACT Health authorities on Wednesday warned Canberrans to watch vigilantly for symptoms, after a man from Melbourne visited the NSW South Coast while potentially infectious last week.
Ms Stephen-Smith said there was a surge in Canberrans wanting to get tested, leading to long waits times on Wednesday.
“That tends to always happen on a day when there’s new cases alerted interstate, and particularly in NSW of course,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“But the team did a really great job in increasing staffing, and I understand the waits were a bit longer than usual, maybe 90 minutes up to two hours some people were waiting.”