Prime Minister Scott Morrison is backing the COVID vaccine rollout for younger children, as reports of supply delays and cancelled appointments emerge.
Three million vaccines are being distributed before the start of the school year as 2.3 million children aged five to 11 became eligible from Monday.
Mr Morrison said there were 6000 places across the country where children could be vaccinated.
“There are 835,000 vaccines in those places right now as of last Friday and more would have been added to that since then – if you can’t get it from where you would normally go, know there are other places where the vaccines are on the shelves,” he said on Monday.
But one Melbourne GP has been forced to cancel appointments after doses failed to arrive on time – and she was unable to contact anyone to find out when they would arrive.
“We have not been able to contact the centre, they won’t answer our calls, they won’t answer the emails and we’re not allowed to go pick them up ourselves, which we’ve often done in the flu vaccine, when there’s been problems with delivery,” Dr Mary-Anne Lancaster from Balwyn Health Care told Melbourne’s 3AW radio.
“We’re going to have to cancel, as are a lot of other clinics, the kids today.”
Dr Lancaster said it would help if medical practitioners were trusted to collect doses.
“If they would just let us manage it … we know how to vaccinate, we know how to manage the cold chains, we know how to maintain the vaccines, let us do our jobs,” she said.
“If you can’t deliver them, let us come and pick them up.”
Earlier, another Melbourne practitioner said GPs were able to order the vaccines only on Friday and could not buy more than 200 doses, or two weeks’ supply.
GP Todd Cameron, from Hobsons Bay in Melbourne’s west, said his practice had been swamped with phone calls but he would not open up more vaccine appointments until he had enough stock.
“There is huge demand and not much to deliver at the moment, unfortunately,” he told 3AW.
In South Australia, health authorities have told state parliament they will receive only enough paediatric COVID vaccine doses to cover half the state’s five to 11-year-olds by the end of the month when school is due to return.
“We have more demand than what we have supply,” SA Health deputy chief executive Don Frater told a parliamentary committee on Monday.
“There’s about 144,000 young people, most of whom will wish to be vaccinated, and the Commonwealth are giving us a limited supply of vaccine during January for that same group.”
In Western Australia, Premier Mark McGowan said the state was sharing some of its paediatric doses with GPs, who had not received supplies promised by the federal government.
Pharmacy Guild of Australia Victorian president Anthony Tassone tweeted that some pharmacies and GPs were yet to receive stock, but were “expected to in coming days”.
The head of Australia’s vaccine rollout, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, said he wasn’t surprised if there were minor concerns about the initial rollout, with millions of children becoming eligible on the same day.
General Frewen said 800,000 doses had already been distributed to GPs, pharmacies and state hubs, with another 400,000 on the way. He encouraged parents to keep trying to find appointments.
“I do understand if there have been frustrations around getting appointments for some. But, please, if you can’t get an immediate appointment with your primary healthcare provider, if that is your GP, please do try pharmacies. Please do try the state hubs,” he said.
“There are additional bookings coming online every day and there will be more and more opportunities over the weeks ahead.”
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Karen Price said GPs had had a mixed experience with the rollout.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s around staffing issues in the logistical supply chain. There has been lots of furloughing of transport staff,” Dr Price told the ABC on Monday.
Dr Price said GPs said they had the capacity to administer more doses, but were limited by the caps a practice was allowed to receive.
“It would have been nice to have some contingency there so a bigger dose amount could’ve been delivered to offset some of the patchiness of what has been going on,” she said.
“We are hoping there will be another way, which has been happening in the boosters, where if you are going through your supply more quickly you can apply for increased amounts.”
The Pfizer vaccine for five to 11 year olds is being distributed in orange-capped vials to differentiate it from other vaccines and will be given in two doses at least eight weeks apart.
So far more than 73 per cent of Australians aged 12 to 15 have been fully vaccinated, taking the total proportion of the eligible population to 91 per cent double-dosed.
NSW on Monday reported 20,293 infections from 84,333 conventional PCR lab tests. There were a record 18 deaths, including a child under five.
No data is available yet from rapid antigen tests.
Victoria had 34,808 COVID-19 cases and two deaths from the virus, the state’s health department said.
The new infections included 17,190 from rapid antigen tests and 17,618 from PCR tests. The state is managing 161,065 active cases.
There are 818 patients in hospital, 66 more than the previous day, including 118 in ICU and 28 requiring ventilators.