‘We need more support’: No extra funding for booster program

Jolyon Attwooll

28/10/2021 4:09:13 PM

A COVID-19 vaccine booster program has now been officially signed off, but GPs will miss out on additional remuneration for administering a third dose.

GP explaining to a patient
GPs should be better remunerated because they will need to take the time to explain why a booster vaccine is necessary, according to the RACGP President.

There will be no increase in billing amounts for general practices taking part in the vaccine booster program, the Federal Government confirmed on Thursday.
The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) rebate for boosters will stay at the existing level for administering a second dose, with no Practice Incentives Program (PIP) payment to be included, a decision that has been criticised by RACGP President Dr Karen Price.
The arrangements were confirmed when the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommended the program proceed.
This decision, the final seal of approval required for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine boosters in Australia, was made public by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Federal Health Minister Health Greg Hunt on Thursday morning. It came just over 24 hours after the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced that they had approved Pfizer for use as a booster among adults.
ATAGI’s decision means people over 18 will be able to have a booster shot six months after the second dose of their primary course.
The program will begin on 8 November, as previously reported, with the aged care and disability sectors targeted as a priority.
Dr Price said that while she welcomes the opportunity for general practices to contribute to this next phase of the vaccination program, she is disappointed the call for Level C funding for administering boosters was not answered.
‘Given the enormous pressures practices are facing and the huge task ahead of us, we fought for a boost in funding to deliver the booster vaccines,’ Dr Price told newsGP. ‘Unfortunately, today’s announcement does not feature any new funding for practices delivering these boosters.
‘We advocated for this because we expect that patients will come to us with many questions about the booster vaccine.
‘People are already suffering from vaccine “information overload” after a long year trying to understand the various changes to the vaccine rollout and what it means for them and their loved ones. GPs and general practice teams will need to take the time to carefully lay out for patients why a booster vaccine is necessary and answer any queries.’
Dr Price said that general practices want to contribute as much as possible to the pandemic response, particularly with vulnerable groups such as older people and the immunocompromised. However, she said many practices have encountered significant difficulties, including financially, for playing their part.
‘It has been a challenging time for GPs, practice managers, nurses, receptionists and admin workers dealing with not only an unprecedented pandemic, but also the largest vaccine rollout Australia has seen, and all the while maintaining usual care for our patients,’ Dr Price said.
‘General practice teams have had to manage threatening and abusive patients and find ways to absorb the cost of delivering millions of vaccines nation-wide, with some practices actually losing money delivering the vaccines.’
With the country now set to open up further, she believes pressures on general practices are likely to increase.
‘Given that we will be responsible for delivering booster vaccines, caring for a surging caseload of patients who have delayed or avoided screenings and consults during the pandemic, and helping people emerging from lockdown with mental health concerns all on top of the usual day-to-day care we provide – I think we need more support,’ Dr Price said.
Minister Hunt said that boosters for aged care residents will begin ahead of 8 November, with the program due to begin today (Thursday 28 October) in Geelong, Victoria. He also indicated that vaccine supply will not be an issue.
‘If any GPs wish to commence, then they’re in a position to do that,’ he said.
The new announcement means Australia will be one of the few countries in the world to have opened a booster vaccination program to the wider population.
Israel began a booster program for elderly residents in July, then subsequently made it accessible to all adults a month later.
Recent months have seen an increasing number of studies suggesting the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines wanes over time, particularly in their protection against symptomatic infection.
Earlier in October, ATAGI announced a third dose would be made available for the severely immunocompromised as part of their primary vaccination course.
Pfizer and BioNTech last week released a summary of results from a randomised controlled trial aimed at assessing the effectiveness of boosters at preventing infection. The figures, which have not yet been peer reviewed, suggest boosters offer around 95.6% more efficacy in protecting against symptomatic COVID-19 compared to those in a control group that received a placebo. The companies have declared their intention to share data with regulatory authorities across the world.
While Pfizer is currently the only vaccine to have received approval as a booster in Australia, Moderna is also expected to go through the formal process with the TGA.
Minister Hunt said on Thursday that Novavax is about to apply for formal approval for its COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the TGA’s national manager Professor John Skerritt, there will be around 1.6 million people eligible for a booster dose by the beginning of 2022.
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Dr Milton Arthur Sales   29/10/2021 6:58:45 AM

Our practice has started to do the background work to populate booster clinics and manage expiring vaccines and this is costing us without remuneration and I expected a PIP to pay for that. In effect we are getting $10 less for the third dose but all our costs are the same. I feel like giving up immunisation for Covid rather than making a loss.

Dr Sasidharan Somasunderam   29/10/2021 9:50:08 AM

Good for nothing RACGP as usual. Good at releasing statements but no action. Pharmacies are making money. Weekends, Public holiday phone consults fee is the same as normal days and again GP's are loosing out.

Dr Ian   29/10/2021 10:33:51 AM

The Pfizer BioNTech mRNA vaccine requires a dilution step plus Cold Chain stringency that makes it hard for many surgeries to manage Together with careful care of the other aspects of General Practice which are vast .
So it will be safer for dedicated clinics and vaccine hubs .
With Spike-Vax there is three fold the mRNA so there is consideration of a lesser dose for booster and it has not passed the Trials .