Solution sought for people in COVID vaccine limbo

Jolyon Attwooll

24/08/2021 4:41:24 PM

A gap in the Australian Immunisation Register means those who have had different vaccines are not currently recognised as fully vaccinated.

Confused person starting at laptop screen.
People who have received two different COVID-19 vaccines are not being acknowledged as fully vaccinated on the Australian Immunisation Register.

The Department of Health (DoH) says it is ‘actively working’ with Services Australia to recognise those in limbo with their vaccination status.
People who have received two different COVID-19 vaccines – eg an initial dose of AstraZeneca followed by Pfizer – are not being acknowledged as fully vaccinated on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).
There are a variety of reasons why people may have been obliged to change vaccine brand. These include being administered a different vaccine brand overseas that is unavailable in Australia, being advised not to have a follow-up of the same vaccine due to changing medical advice or having an adverse reaction to their first dose.
The issue has affected an unspecified number of vaccine recipients, but Services Australia has acknowledged it has fielded inquiries from ‘a lot of people’.
Dr Judit Gonczi, a GP in Parramatta in Sydney, is one person whose immediate family has been affected.
She told newsGP that her 73-year-old husband, who has been treated for recurrent thrombosis related to antiphospholipid syndrome, received the AstraZeneca vaccine in early April.
However, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) subsequently changed its advice, saying that Pfizer should be the preferred vaccine for anyone with a past history of that condition.
After her husband received a dose of Pfizer last month, Dr Gonczi said she realised the gap in the system when his status was not acknowledged as fully vaccinated on the AIR. She said she called the AIR and was told they were aware of the problem and that ‘quite a number of people’ were affected.
The DoH did not address a newsGP enquiry about how many people have been affected, but acknowledged the issue and said discussions are underway to resolve it.
‘The Department of Health is actively working with Services Australia so that individuals who have received a mixed dose schedule due to special circumstances … will receive a COVID-19 certificate,’ a spokesperson told newsGP.
A COVID-19 digital certificate, intended as official proof of being fully vaccinated, was launched earlier this year. While showing evidence of having received COVID-19 vaccines is not yet a widespread requirement, focus on being fully vaccinated is likely to increase sharply in the short-term in the drive to open the country up.

No timeframe has been released for the process to issue certificates to those who have had different vaccine doses.
The DoH said some returned travellers were among that group, as well those who had a serious vaccine-attributed adverse event following a first dose.
Officials, both at Services Australia and at state-run health services, have been responding in recent weeks to numerous queries about the immunisation status of those who have received different vaccines.
In response to one recent inquiry on social media, for a user who self-described as a pregnant healthcare worker, Services Australia said the DoH makes decisions about the vaccinations that can be uploaded to the AIR.
‘We know there are a lot of people with these questions and we’ll have more information for you soon,’ the spokesperson responded.
ATAGI recommends the use of the same COVID-19 vaccine for both doses of the initial vaccination process, unless there are specific medical contraindications or the same vaccine brand is unavailable.
Studies have suggested that mixed dose vaccination can be effective but there is currently no official endorsement of the approach.
As of earlier this month, all data published about the vaccination rollout is now drawn from the AIR. Vaccine rollout updates had previously relied on self-reporting from the states and territories.
Administration of the register is overseen by Medicare, which lies within the remit of Services Australia.
The changes to the AIR did initially lead to suspected under-reporting in the official rollout figures.
There have been other reported anomalies with the AIR, including delays in uploading individual details to the system, healthcare workers being unable to prove being fully vaccinated or people being turned away from vaccination sites due to an incorrect vaccination status.
The legislation surrounding the AIR was amended earlier this year, partly in order to make it mandatory to include all COVID-19 vaccinations.
As of 20 February, all COVID-19 vaccinations have needed to be recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register by law.
Vaccine providers are asked to add new vaccinations to the register within 24 hours of administration if practicable, or within 10 business days. They are also required to record the COVID‑19 vaccine brand and its vial serial number if it is known.
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