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Medical leaders say it is a “mystery” why an online Covid-19 vaccination booking system hasn’t been launched yet, as doctors are forced to reject older Australians trying to make appointments just days before GPs are due to begin offering the jab.
Without the bookings website, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Medical Association have said it is too early for Australians eligible for the vaccine as part of phase 1b – expected to begin next Monday – to be calling GPs to make appointments.
The RACGP and AMA said some clinics had still not been provided adequate information about how many doses they would receive.
Doctors were also concerned there would be so few doses provided to individual GPs that clinics would likely be limited to providing it to their oldest and most at-risk patients, rather than accepting appointments from anyone within the eligible age bracket.
The allotment of imported AstraZeneca doses has to be divided among the 1,000 clinics set to take part in the next phase of the rollout.
The health department secretary, Prof Brendan Murphy, speaking on Sunday after Scott Morrison received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, said the phase-1b rollout was set to commence on 22 March.
That means Australians aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55, healthcare workers not covered in phase 1a and adults with underlying medical conditions should begin to receive their vaccination.
The government on Sunday launched a new website, Is it true?, to counter vaccine misinformation , but Murphy acknowledged the website to facilitate Covid-19 vaccine bookings for GPs who did not already have an online system had not yet been launched, despite being commissioned earlier.
A key feature of the new website will be the ability to list nearby clinics that are participating in the vaccine rollout. The website was also expected to include the existing eligibility checker tool the health department has released.
The RACGP president, Dr Karen Price, told the Guardian she had anticipated the national booking service would be ready this week.
“It’s a little bit of a mystery,” she said on the timing of the website.
She noted the importance of providing the resource to the public in advance of the phase-1b rollout because the Australians over 70 who will become eligible might require more time to familiarise themselves with the website and the information it provides.
“You can imagine some people are going to find it hard to navigate,” Price said. “Patients are wanting that booking system to be up.”
Price said that without the list of which clinics would be vaccinating, those who were set to be eligible next week had been phoning their GPs trying to make bookings.
“Receptionists are already getting overwhelmed with these calls,” she said.
However, Price said low supply of the vaccine for GPs in the early weeks of the phase-1b rollout and a lack of information about how doses would be divided among practices meant GPs “can’t promise anything to anybody at the moment because we’re unsure”.
She said her clinic had formally expressed interest in administering 200 doses a day, but had been allocated just 50 a week. Now, doctors at the clinic where she practiced were considering their patient lists and inviting those at most risk to take up the limited vaccines.
Price encouraged doctors whose clinics were not vaccinating as part of 1b to consider their most at-risk patients and call them and refer them to GPs nearby that are participating in the rollout.
The AMA vice-president, Dr Chris Moy, said that even if the government booking website was launched, “it wouldn’t be possible for most practices to take bookings now” because the government had provided scant and delayed information about how many doses they would provide GPs.
“Practices only found out last week how many vaccines they’ll get … [but] some haven’t been given the numbers they’re getting,” Moy said.
He said the delay to the centralised vaccination website, and doctors’ lack of clarity about their own supplies, meant general practices were ill-equipped for phase-1b beginning next week.
“There’s got to be a period of us finding our feet on this,” Moy said, noting GPs would likely have to turn away some patients despite being eligible from next week.
“This won’t be like the flu shot, where there’s certainty of dose numbers.”
Moy and Price both predicted GPs would be able to substantially increase their ability to administer vaccines once the booking website was live and the locally-produced vaccine supply was ready for distribution.
The Guardian contacted the Department of Health for a clarification.
About 165,000 vaccinations had been administered across Australia as of Monday.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Doctors left ‘ill-equipped’ for Australia’s Covid vaccine rollout criticise delayed launch of booking site | Vaccines and immunisation