23 May 2019

Policy could see vulnerable patients denied vaccines

23/05/2019 4:23:13 PM

GPs in SA and Tasmania are potentially turning away patients at risk of contracting measles, due to restrictions on government-supplied vaccines.

There is currently a global vaccine shortage
Doctors in South Australia and Tasmania are currently prohibited from providing free catch up vaccines under Nation Immunisation Program.

According to GP and Immunisation Coalition (IC) member Dr Rod Pearce, the South Australian and Tasmanian state governments have directed healthcare professionals to only administer measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines to children eligible under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
The policy, combined with supply constraints on privately available vaccines, has meant GPs are potentially being forced to direct patients to travel interstate or overseas should they wish to be vaccinated.
‘We’ve been specifically told we can’t use the government stock to vaccinate. So if I had a 50-year-old come in and say, “I’m going to New York where there’s an outbreak, can I have my measles vaccine?”, we can’t give them that supply,’ Dr Pearce said.
‘Internationally there is a demand for measles vaccines, which means those excess ones that would normally be in the private market have gone overseas so there’s none available until October.
‘I’ll either have to sneak one out illicitly from my NIP [reserves] or tell them that they’ve got to go to another state or country to get one, because technically I don’t have any access.’
Dr Pearce is yet to turn away a patient as blood tests have all revealed high levels of antibodies, but he told newsGP he would still like the same access that GPs in most other states and territories receive, as well as official protocols to follow for providing the vaccine in specific circumstances.
‘We need to respect the shortage – not just give it to anyone that says, “I’m not sure, I can’t document two injections” … [but] it would be reasonable to have some guidelines that are clinically based,’ he said.
‘The IC would like the South Australian [and Tasmanian] Government to set up a mechanism for GPs to be able to give the measles vaccines in certain circumstances with some sort of support.
‘[Instead] what’s probably going to happen is people will just do it without telling anyone, which is not the proper way to conduct health policy.’
South Australia and Tasmania have only had three and one confirmed cases of measles in 2019; however, Australia is in the midst of the worst measles outbreak since 2014, while global rates have also exploded over the past 12 months.
Dr Richard Kidd, Chair of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Council of General Practice, has called on free universal catch-up vaccines to be made available to anyone through the NIP.
‘Despite Australia being declared by the World Health Organization to be measles and rubella free, we continue to see outbreaks occurring within our shores when this highly contagious disease is caught overseas, brought back and spread,’ he said.
‘All states and territories, except Tasmania and South Australia, provide a free catch-up [vaccination] for measles, mumps and rubella for those born in or after 1966. Obviously, with two states missing out, more needs to be done to ensure as many Australians as possible are fully vaccinated.
‘With 16% of the population at risk the AMA believes it is time that the Federal Government steps up and provides the funding necessary to ensure all Australians have free access to the vaccines.’
A spokesperson for the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services would not confirm whether restrictions are related to funding or supply issues, but did say the government is ‘considering state-funded options’ for people not eligible under the NIP.
SA Health told newsGP adolescents aged up to 19 years are eligible to receive a free vaccine under the NIP, but did not say why it does not provide free catch up vaccinations for adults outside of this cohort.
The spokesperson also declined to comment on whether the government is considering changing this policy given the shortage in privately supplied vaccines, but did confirm SA Health regularly reviews its vaccination schedule ‘to ensure the State Government-funded programs meet demand’.

measles National Immunisation Program South Australia Tasmania vaccine

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Dr Arshad Merchant   24/05/2019 6:12:54 AM

Public health is a big issue and GPs are doing everything beyond possible to safe guard public. I am sick of the red tape policies... Either allow us to protect public or be open to your voters that you cannot help them.... don't blame GP or send patient to GP to be abuse because of policies

Chandrika   24/05/2019 9:40:35 AM

I would recommend a serology for MMR for all who are uncertain of their status of vaccination and does not want another shot of MMR,whether they are are travelling or not .If we use Children’s vaccine we could run short of supply for the kids.
People always wants to take more and more from the government.Most of these people have money for beer wine holidays .Look at all the shopping malls all are full of people spending money on things that are not so essential.I believe adults should pay for their vaccines.Otherwise I and you will need to continue to pay higher taxes.Government does not have a money tree.