‘We can’t do much with 50 doses’: GPs concerned about supply, capability of COVID-19 vaccine

A doctor in Melbourne’s west says the medical practice he works for is considering delaying its rollout of COVID-19 vaccines because its allocation of 50 doses a week will not allow it to “set something up which is sustainable”.

But federal Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the program on Sunday, saying the 4000 GP practices which registered to be involved was double what the government expected, and health practitioners would not be left out of pocket.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt waiting to receive his COVID-19 vaccination on Sunday. Credit:Nine News

“So the program is large, and it is challenging, but it is immensely important,” said Mr Hunt, who, alongside former prime minister Julia Gillard, received his vaccination at a GP clinic in Carrum Downs on Sunday.

“There are some who wanted to charge the patients an arm and a leg, so sorry to them … But so we are absolutely clear this [vaccine] is free, and it is universally available.”

Werribee doctor Joe Garra said of his clinic: “We can’t do much with 50 doses. Once we vaccinate staff and doctors here, that’s 10 doses gone”.

“We’re really keen to start and get people vaccinated, but that is going to depend on the supply of vaccine to make it efficient. Until we’ve got vaccine guaranteed in our hands, we can’t book a place or employ casual staff to help do the vaccinating.

GP Joe Garra.Credit:Joe Armao

“Our practice is considering delaying for a week and not starting until we have our second delivery.”

On Sunday, morning Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the state government was working alongside the Commonwealth to “ensure the vaccine is rolled out as effectively as possible”.

“In the areas the Victorian government is responsible for, our objective is to continue to provide support so we can roll out the vaccine in the safest way possible with the strictest oversights in place,” she said.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley has been contacted for comment.

Frustrated general practitioners in NSW and Western Australia have threatened to pull out of the coronavirus vaccination program, complaining of a “non-sensical” process and low rates of payment that will not cover their costs.

The proposed rollout has sparked a war of words with NSW Health Minsiter Brad Hazzard, who has called on the federal government to have the vaccine scheme junked and for all GPs to instead be given access to the vaccine in the same way as the annual flu jab.

Dr Garra’s MyClinic in Werribee Village has five other doctors, he said, who could easily use up their weekly allocation in a single day on patients who fit into the vaccination category 1b, and who were in the clinic for appointments for other health issues. That category covers people aged over 70, some healthcare workers and adults with a specified medical condition.

Dr Garra said more than 16,000 people over the age of 70 live in the City of Wyndham, in Melbourne’s south-west.

And with thousands more in the local area living with chronic illnesses or a disability, he said GPs would need to administer a total of 5000 COVID-19 jabs a week to complete the 1b vaccination group in a month.

The federal government answered GPs’ calls for more information on Friday when it told them of their start date and initial dose allocations. But some clinics have said their allocation is too small and they are not being paid enough to deliver the jabs.

About 4600 accredited general practices have been approved to participate – more than double the Commonwealth’s initial forecast – accounting for about two-thirds of the 6800 accredited practices nationwide and 56 per cent of all 8147 practices.

Dr Garra said GPs from around Werribee were meeting with the local council on Thursday to discuss whether a public space could be used to complete major vaccination drives.

“But booking a mass clinic relies on enough vaccine being there, and we don’t want to be cancelling people. That would be a disaster, just bad for everyone,” he said.

A Department of Health spokesman said Victoria was working closely with the Commonwealth on the rollout of their COVID-19 vaccination program.

“GPs play a vital role in providing health care to all Victorians, including vaccination,” he said.

On Friday, federal health department boss Brendan Murphy said he was working with CSL to lift production of the AstraZeneca vaccine even further.

CSL will start making a million doses a week from March 22, with at least 50 a week going to each approved general practice.

“We’re on track, we’re doing well. We’re going to keep ramping up,” Mr Murphy said.

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