After a year where the news cycles were dominated by the global pandemic and with the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out recently dominating the Doctor news, here’s the latest on where things stand.
2021 has seen a shift to a more positive aspect of the pandemic news cycle – the COVID vaccination roll-out. As more vaccination approvals have occurred in Australia, the Federal government has moved to swiftly facilitate the vaccination process, although not quickly enough according to some commentators and the Federal Opposition.
Until CSL ramps up its production to churn out 50 million doses of the Astra-Zeneca/Oxford COVID vaccination, Australians have been asked to be patient and join a queue where the vaccination is administered according to greatest need. For those wondering where they are in this ‘queue’, SBS has created a simple tool worth checking out.
GPs have become key to the effective roll-out. Community pharmacies are also being encouraged to join the COVID vaccination workforce, although as reported last year in our Pharmacy news, this has received a mixed reception from healthcare professionals, in particular doctors and the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
COVID Vaccination: What do we know so far?
February 21st saw Australia’s first COVID vaccination, with much media attention and fanfare. all part of the Federal government’s PR strategy to promote vaccine safety.
In the proceeding weeks, phase 1a-eligible Australians have been receiving their jabs, with nearly 700,000 predicted to be vaccinated by the end of the phase.
This jumps to a massive 6.13m in phase 1bm which is where GPs – and pharmacists – enter the picture. This healthcare workforce will be essential to expedite the process and prevent vaccine wastage given each dose comes in multi-dose vials.
And, in great doctor news, GPs have mostly come to the party, with the AMA reporting that by the end of the first week of March, over 4600 general practices had received their COVID vaccine onboarding packs.
One hitch with this has been the Federal government’s refusal to allow unaccredited GPs to participate. But this is something the AMA is currently advocating the government to reconsider.
COVID Vaccination: The logical realities
As with any major nationwide health initiative, notwithstanding one adopted during a global pandemic, the best-intentioned plans of government bureaucrats can only be assessed once the practical application of the strategy commences.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) wrote a great profile piece on just such an application when it spoke to Melbourne GP and practice owner Dr Mukesh Haikerwal.
Dr Haikerwal is responsible for setting up Victoria’s first GP-led respiratory clinic. He and his practice team performed a practice trial run of the COVID vaccine roll-out in the first week of March 2021. This trial was, in Dr Haikerwal’s own words, ‘quite intense’.
The main thing Dr Haikerwal noted was the simple logistics of the program. Timing appears to be everything, from the moment the patient arrives (not too early, not too late but right on time is his advice) to when they leave, the clinic must act as a well-oiled COVID vaccination machine. On top of this, the process is also about achieving incredible efficiency throughout the operation, being consistent in the process and following strict infection control measures.
And yet, within days of this profile, some GPs were already voicing their concerns.
COVID Vaccination: GP concerns
A few days after this trial, reports started emerging of GPs being concerned with the program. Despite the government hailing that uptake into the program by GPs was much higher than expected, some GPs took issue with low payment rates that wouldn’t cover their costs and a process riddled with problems.
This was backed up by state politicians, such as NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who felt the COVID vaccine program should be slotted into the standard regular flu vaccination infrastructure.
However, RACGP President Dr Karen Price reached out to the profession, urging them to embrace a ‘patient-driven’ pivot to COVID vaccination, believing it offered the safest model during phase 1b.
Dr Price also spoke to the wider roll-out, observing that during the later phases of COVID vaccination some of the issues GPs were expressing concerns with would be addressed and eventually dissipate.
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