GPs have blasted the federal government over its coronavirus vaccine rollout, saying a delay in rolling out targeted information campaigns left a “vacuum” for anti-vaxxers to spread their dangerous message.
They say health authorities lost the faith and trust of the Australian public through confusing changes to vaccine eligibility, and doctors had borne the brunt of the frustration.
“One of the most vulnerable cohorts had a lag in information that was appropriate for them, allowing misinformation to fill the void,” Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Karen Price said.
She pointed to official data showing only 57.6 per cent of Indigenous people aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared with 85.5 per cent across the wider community.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday extended biosecurity powers locking out visitors from remote indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, where health workers are door-knocking in an effort to boost vaccination rates as a coronavirus outbreak grows.
Sudden vaccine eligibility changes, late deliveries, missing doses and a confusing online booking system wreaked havoc in the early stages of the vaccine rollout, the RACGP said in a submission to the Australian National Audit Office’s audit of the federal program.
“We lost the trust and faith of the Australian public,” Dr Price said.
She said GPs had borne the brunt of frustration when eligibility changes were announced without extra doses being made available and that lessons must be learned as Australia headed towards a potential wave of breakthrough infections as borders opened.
“We can’t think this is over,” she said. “We have got another winter to come with COVID-19 and we need to make sure everyone gets their booster.”
The ANAO, which is examining whether Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been effectively planned, overseen and implemented, is receiving submissions until January.
Dr Price said GPs would need to have access to patients’ immunisation records to ensure they could “proactively reach out” to those due for a second or third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine, “to discuss vaccination and address any concerns they may have.”
“This function will be particularly important for the rollout of the booster program,” she said.
GPs, who on Tuesday had delivered 19.6 million jabs nationally, were “often the target of patient frustrations and at times aggressive behaviour from patients who did not understand why they could get a particular vaccine at certain locations and not others”, the submission said.
“New information, such as the change to the AstraZeneca eligibility criteria, was at times delivered in the middle of a working day when GPs were busy delivering vaccines to patients whose eligibility changed as part of new advice from government.”
Clunky IT systems meant that some patients struggled to book appointments online, meaning GP practices were “inundated with phone calls”, especially after an eligibility change.
“The government must make it easy for patients and general practices alike to manage bookings for COVID-19 vaccinations and be clear about how long patients may have to wait before they can get an appointment,” the submission said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia “has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with one of the lowest rates of loss of life” thanks to “a joint program with GPs, Commonwealth Clinics, State Clinics, Pharmacies and Indigenous Clinics”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday that the 85 per cent double dose vaccination rate was “an extraordinary achievement right across the country.”
Anyone aged 12 and over can check their eligibility and book a vaccine at australia.gov.au
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( Information from smh.com.au was used in this report. To Read More, click here )