RACGP calls for COVID vaccine consistency

Matt Woodley

15/07/2021 4:59:53 PM

The college wants state and federal governments to clarify eligibility criteria and promote consistency between jurisdictions.

COVID vaccine syringe.
Patient confidence in the vaccine rollout has been eroded by constantly changing advice, RACGP President Dr Karen Price says. (Image: AAP)

The RACGP has also suggested expanding vaccine access to groups more likely to contract COVID-19 or suffer severe effects, in the wake of outbreaks in NSW and Victoria that have resulted in lockdowns for both states’ capital cities.
The calls follow several changes to eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines and shifting criteria that are dependent on where a person lives and how they will access a vaccine.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price believes it’s time for consistent messages from governments across Australia in order to make it ‘crystal clear’ who is able to access vaccines and where they can get them.
‘Patients across Australia are suffering from “information overload” and are confused about their eligibility status and what next steps they should take. The goalposts seem to be shifting every other day and I am concerned that some patients will find it all too difficult and delay or avoid getting vaccinated altogether,’ she said.
‘Different states and territories might need different eligibility settings for perfectly good reasons to suit the local context and needs, such as what we are currently seeing in Greater Sydney.
‘However, practices administering vaccines in locations where the state eligibility requirements differ from the federal eligibility requirements are shouldering an unnecessary burden.’
According to Dr Price, many patients do not realise that different rules apply to state government-run vaccine clinics and GP-run clinics, and a lack of forewarning to GPs regarding major changes has led to further confusion.
‘Sometimes new information is being delivered in the middle of a working day when [GPs] are busy delivering vaccines to patients whose eligibility may be subject to change,’ she said.
‘Due to this, our hard-working general practice staff are spending valuable time comprehending and explaining the new rules. They are bearing the frustrations and sometimes aggressive behaviour from patients who don’t understand why they can get a particular jab at one place and not another.
‘It is wasting time and causing unnecessary pain for practice teams at a time when they are busier than ever doing the job of rolling out COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible, while also continuing regular care for their patients.’
To reduce confusion, Dr Price said National Cabinet needs to ensure that each jurisdiction’s eligibility criteria are clearly available to all vaccine providers and patients, and that information is updated immediately as changes occur and reaches the people who need it. She also urged the Government to include the information in its new $40 million national campaign launched on Sunday.
Finally, Dr Price called for a national conversation regarding local vaccine eligibility criteria for new groups of people, particularly considering the Delta variant is spreading in New South Wales and had made its way to Queensland and Victoria.
‘The environment has changed the risk, and this can be communicated clearly,’ she said.
‘The Federal Government should seek ATAGI advice regarding opening up vaccine eligibility to teachers, pregnant women and people living with healthcare workers, older people or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are currently not eligible to receive a Pfizer vaccine.
‘Teachers work closely alongside children who are understandably ill-equipped to practice social distancing and are at times super-spreaders of this virus. As reported recently, health experts have said that pregnant women should be offered the Pfizer vaccine at any stage of their pregnancy.’
As people living together in households are ‘far more likely’ to spread the virus to each other, Dr Price said it also makes sense to expand access to people living with healthcare workers, other frontline workers and vulnerable groups who currently don’t qualify for a vaccine.
‘It is true these people can potentially receive the AstraZeneca vaccine after a discussion with their GP, but we are seeing that many Australians are reluctant to take up this option given the constantly changing advice on who should receive the vaccine. [It] has eroded patient confidence,’ she said.
‘AstraZeneca is a sound option when compared to the risks of the COVID-19 virus, especially for more vulnerable patients including older people. The second dose in particular is essential to protect against severe hospitalisation, severe illness and death.
‘However, making vaccines more available for at-risk groups that don’t currently fit within the current Pfizer eligibility criteria will help stop the spread of this virus when outbreaks occur. This should include not only general practices but the state-run vaccine hubs.’
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