News / Covid-19

‘Patchy at best’: Covid vaccinations hampered by poor supplies

GPs’ clinics want to do more but are unable to get their hands on adequate stocks

Dr Shea Wilcox outside one of the cubicles erected for the vaccination program.

Mark Phillips
Friday, May 21, 2021

WHEN the federal government announced the long-awaited beginning of the national Covid-19 vaccination program in February, a Brunswick East medical clinic was ready to pull up its sleeves and swing into action.

But three months later, frustration has set in as a specially established vaccination centre sits unused for most of each week leaving hundreds of patients with a long wait before they receive the first of their two jabs.

The Inner North Medical Centre in Lygon Street has spent thousands of dollars renting and fitting out a space so it could provide mass vaccinations, but has been hamstrung by insufficient supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine. On top of that, reports of a small number of blood clots after patients have been given the jab have caused ‘vaccine hesitancy’.

“I feel somewhat let down by the federal government’s approach because general practices were excited and willing and able to vaccine the community and it has been at best a patchy rollout,” said Dr Shea Wilcox, one of 11 GPs at the Brunswick clinic which has about 12,000 patients on its books.

Dr Wilcox said the medical centre had the capacity to deliver more than 2000 free vaccinations a week but was only providing a fraction of that because of insufficient supplies.

Initially, it was receiving only 50 doses a week, which has since been increased to 150.

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The issues experienced by the Inner North Medical Centre are being repeated around the nation as the federal vaccination scheme has fallen badly behind schedule in what former federal Health Department secretary Stephen Duckett this week described as a “train wreck”.

General Practitioners have been told they have a major role to play in the vaccination roll out and have delivered about half of all the 3.1 million vaccination doses since they began in late February.

Dr Wilcox said once it was confirmed that GPs would be involved in the rollout, his centre set about converting a vacant building next door into a vaccination centre, but it was operating in the dark because of very little communication or guidance from the federal government about what to expect once the program began.

A local school donated seats for the waiting room area, and temporary cubicles, concierge and a vaccine storage area were built in what he describes as a “DIY project”. Extra staff have also been employed to administer up to 2000 doses a week.

“We saw it as a once in lifetime event and we really wanted to be involved in the vaccination of the community,” he says.

“The government said that GPs would be at the forefront and we had the capacity to create this clinic and put the infrastructure into place and it’s basically sitting unused.”

The centre could be delivering vaccines seven days a week, but currently is only operating at a third of that capacity.

GPs can only administer the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is locally produced in Melbourne by CSL. There are limited stocks of the Pfizer vaccine, which is imported and must be stored at very low temperatures in refrigeration that most GPs do not have.

“[At the start] the government were giving us 50 doses a week which were gone in a heartbeat,” Dr Wilcox said. 

“And now with the expanded numbers we are now getting 150 doses a week and most of those are gone within the first day and the rest after the second day.

“Then people are calling up and our receptionists are getting tied up having to tell people there won’t be another delivery for two weeks … It’s all really been a bit of a mish-mash of messaging and really the delivery of vaccines has been sub-optimal.”

Federal Member for Wills, Peter Khalil, laid the blame at the feet of the federal government.

“The Morrison government has botched this, and it’s embarrassing how far behind Australia is on its vaccine rollout,” he said.

“To have doctors and vaccination sites ready and waiting, but no vaccines to administer is an admission of failure. Ordering vaccines from Moderna in May for delivery into 2022 when the US placed their order in August of last year highlights how behind this government really is.”

Another unexpected factor has been the reluctance of some older patients to get the AstraZeneca vaccine because of media reports about blood clots.

“Honestly if the vaccination rollout had been seamless with large volumes [of vaccines] early on the back of the Covid lockdown the entire population would be vaccinated now,” said Dr Wilcox.

“However now that is fading into memory somewhat there are patches of the community that are more hesitant.”

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