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GPs ‘must be involved’ in COVID vaccine rollout


Morgan Liotta


30/09/2020 3:29:18 PM

The RACGP is calling for GPs to be at the forefront of preparing the public and supporting vaccine uptake when the time comes.

Vaccine needle
Research indicates GPs are highly influential in encouraging vaccine uptake, and they are anticipated to play the same role when a viable COVID-19 candidate arrives. (Image: AAP)

As the world eagerly awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, and many candidates show promise in leading several major clinical trials, there remains uncertainty about its ultimate availability.
 
One thing is certain, though: when a vaccine does become accessible in Australia, general practice is best placed to spearhead rollout.
 
That is the finding among authors of a recent Australian Journal of General Practice (AJGP) article, Preparing the public for COVID-19 vaccines: How can general practitioners build vaccine confidence and optimise uptake for themselves and their patients?
 
Published in the latest edition of AJGP, the article covers key issues related to vaccine planning and rollout – and the implications for general practice.
 
Identifying GPs as one of the most trusted sources for patients, and therefore best placed to raise community awareness of vaccines, the authors provide a framework of what will be needed for primary care to optimise COVID-19 vaccine confidence and uptake in Australia.
 
Once the vaccine prioritisation schedule and key target groups are known, including for primary healthcare workers, the behavioural and social drivers of vaccination acceptance will be clearer. General practice’s role in implementation will then be central.
 
‘Ensuring public confidence in vaccine safety and effectiveness will be crucial to facilitate uptake,’ the AJGP authors wrote.
 
Preliminary survey data estimates that approximately 4.9% of Australians would refuse a COVID-19 vaccine and 9.4% are indifferent about receiving it.
 
As Australia prepares for a potential vaccine rollout, targeted communication strategies are critical, and, according to the authors, these are determined by understanding what information the priority target groups need, how they access information and what factors influence their behaviours.
 
Studies from the H1N1 pandemic showed that GPs were highly influential in encouraging vaccine uptake, and are likely to have a similar role in the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Acting RACGP President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda agrees that GPs are at the forefront of public health as advocates of vaccine adherence. 
 
‘We are connected to our communities, we have delivered vaccines before, we know our patients and they trust us,’ he said.
 
‘This paper clearly outlines why GPs must be significantly involved in any COVID-19 vaccination program from the first available opportunity.’
 
The research comes at a critical time in the search for a vaccine, Associate Professor Shenouda said, with planning for general practice implications essential.
 
‘We should not wait until the day after a vaccine becomes available to consider the role of general practice,’ he said. ‘Past mass vaccination programs have demonstrated that planning for vaccine rollout and community engagement needs to start beforehand.
 
‘So in order to optimise confidence and uptake, GPs must be properly consulted and significantly involved from start to finish. That includes our work in educating patients and carers about the vaccine, administering it, recording uptake and reporting any adverse events.’
 
The AJGP authors also note, however, that vaccine hesitancy and refusal can be major barriers to uptake, particularly in the case of new pandemic vaccines. They warn that although billions of dollars are being invested in the development of vaccines, their arrival will not guarantee acceptance.
 
Further research is urgently needed in the Australian setting to develop resources to optimise vaccine uptake and public acceptance, according to the authors.
 
The RACGP is supportive of government efforts to facilitate a strong uptake.
 
‘To make sure as many people as possible are vaccinated we will need to draw on past experience and deploy measures which have proved successful in boosting vaccination rates,’ Associate Professor Shenouda said.
 
‘This is a new virus but vaccine education and encouraging uptake is not. There are policies governments have used before and we can use them again.
 
‘The RACGP supports current initiatives aimed at encouraging people to get vaccinated and vaccinate their children. We would support similar [government] measures to boost uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available.’
 
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Dr Ragupathy Renganathan   1/10/2020 11:47:09 AM

A patient who had COVID 19 positive swab test and subsequently recovered, I presume
he/she has developed Antibodies .
What is your advice if this patient should be Vaccinated ?
As an example , over the years from my experience if for certain a patient had "CHICKENPOX" infection , I would not recommend a chicken-pox vaccine.