Doctors say the federal government should have talked down expectations of a fast COVID-19 vaccine rollout, as they try to reassure worried patients they will get their jabs.
The call came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a roundtable meeting with peak medical bodies in Melbourne on Friday to discuss the country’s biggest vaccination program.
Mr Morrison initially promised four million vaccinations would be delivered by March, with the entire nation receiving a jab by October.
But so far, just over 250,000 have been given.
More than 1000 GP practices and 100 Commonwealth clinics will start delivering the next phase of vaccinations from Monday.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said doctors had made their views on the program known to government.
“They should have been a little bit more clear with the public that actually this is a really slow start to the rollout – that 6.5 million people can’t have their vaccine in the first week when we’ve only got 200,000 doses,” Dr Khorshid told the ABC.
“Perhaps it would have been better to say, look, let the practices contact you and give the GPs the opportunity to determine for themselves who are their highest risk patients, who should they focus on in this first couple of weeks.
“But the genie is out of the bottle now.”
GP clinics were inundated with calls from patients and the federal Health Department’s booking website crashed earlier this week when the government announced six million more people would be eligible for virus shots from Monday.
Dr Khorsid said doctors wanted people to be patient and understand they were trying their best to take part in the program.
The mainstay of the Australian program, AstraZeneca’s vaccine, has been given the green light by the European regulator.
A review detected no link between the AstraZeneca jab and an increased risk of blood clots.
The EMA found that while the overall risk of clotting in people who had been vaccinated was on par with the general population, it could not rule out a potential link with rare clots associated with low blood platelets.
The rare clots were almost all in women under 55, a group that is typically not at a high risk of clotting.
However, the EMA said the benefits of the vaccine “still outweigh the risks”.
Further checks by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration concluded no increased risk of anaphylaxis associated with the vaccine above the expected rate for any other vaccine.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said 500,000 imported vaccines would be available for next week, when phase 1B of the national program begins.
It is not yet clear when the TGA will give the all-clear to CSL’s Melbourne-made AstraZeneca product, but it could be within days.
CSL plans to release an initial two million doses of the local product by the end of March, followed by a million doses a week thereafter.
“My advice is that that remains absolutely on track,” Mr Hunt said.
Even with TGA approval, the release of the local vaccines will take a few days to get rolling as batches are tested.
The next vaccination phase includes people aged over 70, Indigenous Australians over 55, younger adults with a medical condition or disability, and workers deemed at critical or high risk.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton conceded there had been problems with the online booking system, but said teething issues were always bound to occur.
Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles said all Australians wanted it to be a smooth process, but the government continued to make a lot of “heroic promises” without fulfilling them.