Calls to prioritise influenza vaccine for general practice

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

28/05/2020 2:44:07 PM

A recent survey found more than 50% of clinics report not receiving enough stock to meet patient demand.

Flu vaccine
The RACGP has called on the Federal Government to prioritise distribution of influenza vaccines to GPs, after 55% of clinics surveyed report lack of stock for patient demand.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon is clear in his stance on the availability of flu vaccines in general practice.
‘The problem was never that there was shortage of the flu vaccine, the problem is with the distribution of the flu vaccine,’ he said.
‘And it has been a problem for a long time.’
GPs have seen an increased demand for influenza vaccines this year, with people heeding advice to get their vaccine earlier than usual in a bid to reduce pressure on the health system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, more than 7.3 million flu vaccines have been administered and recorded in the Australian Immunisation Register, up from 4.5 million for the same period in 2019 and 3.5 million in 2018, according to government statistics.
But an RACGP survey of more than 1100 GPs across Australia has revealed 55% were unable to access enough stock to provide flu vaccinations to their patients.
Dr Nespolon said the delay many patients have faced is unacceptable.
‘The Government secured enough of the special flu vaccine for over-65s, who are more vulnerable, for everyone in the country, and we commended them for this,’ he said.
‘[But] every year we see the same issue – the vaccine comes too slowly to GP clinics and we don’t get enough of it for our patients.’
Dr Nespolon said the pandemic has highlighted cracks in the distribution system that need to be urgently addressed.
‘Australia has a world-class healthcare system. Nobody living here, particularly those who are vulnerable, should have to wait weeks for a vaccine,’ he said.
‘We need to fix this problem now.’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced an additional two million flu vaccines will be distributed to GPs and pharmacists from Wednesday 27 March and over June.
To help GPs meet the needs of patients across Australia, the RACGP is calling on the Government to prioritise supply to general practice ahead of pharmacies to ensure continuity of care, as well as better health outcomes in the instance of adverse effects.
The college is also calling for clearer communication so vulnerable patients aged over 65 are aware that they can only receive the quadrivalent influenza vaccine (QIV) for free from their GP under the National Immunisation Scheme (NIP).
To be able to better estimate patient demand in each practice for the allocation of adequate stock, the RACGP is requesting that improvements be made to supply and demand modelling.
‘We don’t want to face it again next year, or the next time there’s a public health crisis,’ Dr Nespolon said.
‘We need to urgently get vaccines to clinics across the country.’
Despite unprecedented challenges posed during the pandemic, the RACGP’s survey found nearly 98% of GPs were providing the flu vaccine to their patients.
Well over half of those surveyed had set up special arrangements to provide the vaccine, with 30.1% allocating set clinic times for flu vaccinations, 18.12% delivering vaccines outdoors, and 19.39% setting up other types of arrangements.
Dr Nespolon said the results are reassuring for patients.
‘My message for patients who haven’t had their flu vaccine yet is this: call your GP to discuss getting the right vaccine for your age group – while you may need to wait a little bit there is no need to panic, you will be able to get it,’ he said.
Since the pandemic began, many patients have been avoiding important medical appointments, with MBS data revealing nearly 100,000 fewer GP visits in March alone.
Acknowledging the concerning trend, the RACGP recently ran a nationwide campaign, Expert Advice Matters, to encourage people to take better care of their health and inform them of their options for either telehealth or face-to-face consultations.
‘I also want to reassure patients that it remains safe to visit your GP,’ Dr Nespolon said.
‘General practice has world-class infection prevention and control processes, so remember when you visit your GP to get your flu vaccine this year they might be doing things a little differently but it remains safe.’
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Dr Philip Nazih Emile Yazbek   29/05/2020 4:10:10 PM

I totally agree with your response to the poor allocation of flu vaccination to GP practices.
Unfortunately our government prefers to allocate full priority to chemists for many years.
This is shameful and I would suggest that it is about time that pharmacies should be banned from vaccinating anyone. This job should be restricted only to GPs who follow the guidelines to the letter.

Dr Tatiana Cimpoesu   1/06/2020 11:22:26 PM

Why are GP clinics not given at least priority to administer vaccines, considering doctors are trained to diagnose and treat and pharmacists to supervise the dispensing of medicines? Should GPs start dispensing or maybe we can just have one training university for both professions if we are not worried about conflict of interests or medical indemnity??