Australian GPs grapple with vaccine shortfalls as pleas for more AstraZeneca doses are rejected | Health

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General practitioners in Australia grappling with major vaccine supply shortfalls are being refused more AstraZeneca doses, despite 1m per week now being manufactured onshore.

Guardian Australia spoke with GPs across the country on Tuesday to understand whether early supply issues had eased, particularly given the increase in domestic manufacturing of the AstraZeneca vaccine at CSL’s Melbourne facility.

The overwhelming response was that nothing had changed.

In many cases, GPs had made direct requests to the federal government for increases to their allotted vaccine supply, but were rejected.

In Tweed Heads in north-eastern New South Wales, Dr Matthew Cardone helps run a GP super-clinic, staffed by 30 doctors and 20 nurses. It has capacity to deliver 1,500 vaccines per week and has 8,000 patients eligible under phase 1b alone.

The Tweed Health for Everyone clinic spent $60,000 readying itself to deliver vaccines, buying new fridges, batteries, IT infrastructure and needle and syringe supplies, as well as training staff.

It was given 100 doses per week.

“So that’s going to take us three years to clear that [8,000 patients], at the current rate, if everyone gets two doses,” Cardone said.

The clinic has made repeated requests for more doses.

“They just say talk to your local primary health network (PHN), the PHN just says ‘We are powerless to do anything’,” Cardone said.

“It’s entirely frustrating. Every day it’s a conversation with a patient saying ‘Why can’t we have our shots?’ Every day it’s a patient getting upset at our reception team saying ‘Where are our shots, why can’t we have our shots, we want to see our doctors for our shots?’”

The Australian General Practice Alliance, a peak group for clinic owners, has run a survey of its members’ experiences with the rollout so far.

Preliminary results show only one of the 38 respondents so far has hit full capacity for administering vaccines. The rest could do more if given the supply.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said it continued to receive reports that supply is a problem for many of its members.

President Dr Karen Price said GPs had the “capacity to be providing many more Covid-19 vaccines than we currently are, so long as we have enough supply”.

“We are hoping that the ramp up of manufacturing capacity in Australia will soon be felt by all the GPs administering vaccines, as we’ve been reassured will happen,” Price told the Guardian.

The latest data shows about 34,668 new doses were administered in primary care on Monday, taking the total to 1,245,117 since the rollout begun.

The health minister, Greg Hunt, said on Monday that the government had distributed 4.1m doses, including half a million that will be available this week.

That is not translating into extra supply for clinics like the Nelson Plaza Clinic in Port Stephens.

It is still only receiving 50 doses per week, the same as its initial supply levels, despite a capacity to administer 500 doses per day, or 1,000 doses per day if needed.

Clinic director Anna Davidson has made requests through her local PHN for more, which have been rejected. The latest request, made last week, prompted the PHN to respond that: “At this stage the current supply of AstraZeneca vaccine has been fully allocated. The department have advised that whilst the allocation is locked for this initial period, the maximum allocation may be reviewed as vaccine availability increases and data on utilisation, demand and access across the system becomes available.”

Davidson questioned where the one million locally manufactured doses were going.

“One million a week – where is it? Seriously, where is it?” she said. “And when you consider that we’ve actually reduced who can get AstraZeneca phenomenally … in terms of all under 50s getting Pfizer, then you go ‘where is the AstraZeneca?’ Because it should mean that we are chugging through our patients eligible for AstraZeneca even more. But there’s just no more vaccine.”

In the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick East, Dr Shea Wilcox is in the same situation. His clinic, the Inner North Medical Clinic, has capacity to deliver 2,100 doses a week.

He began the rollout only receiving 50 doses a week.

“They actually come in 100 doses a fortnight, which is 50 for a week. But our 100 doses are gone by Wednesday, or Tuesday, really. We usually get them on the Friday afternoon, and start on the Monday,” he said.

Nothing has changed, though the state government has indicated it may be able to give it some additional supplies. His clinic was also on a shortlist to potentially receive more from the federal government.

“From my point of view, these little roadblocks and speed bumps sort of tie in to the broader uncomfortableness with the vaccine.”

Dr Maria Boulton said her Brisbane clinic is still only receiving 50 doses per week, despite the ability to provide much more. Boulton has made repeated requests for additional supplies, which have all been rejected.

She said the demand on GPs had increased this week, due to the expanded eligibility of over 50s for the AstraZeneca.

“We’re getting more phone calls but we’ve still got the same number of vaccines,” she said.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Australian GPs grapple with vaccine shortfalls as pleas for more AstraZeneca doses are rejected | Health

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