According to the Epidemiology and Covid-19 vaccine roadmap, GPs will not be among the first to receive the long-awaited vaccines. Comments from the RACGP President, Dr. Karen Price, shone a light on the vaccination plans, how it affects GPs and their involvement in the rollout.
The Covid-19 roadmap
To understand how GPs fit in, it’s essential to revisit the rollout plan. The process is broken down into three phases.
At the beginning of Phase 1a, Australia is expected to receive a total of 1.4 million vaccine doses. These are estimated to be administered over less than two weeks to quarantine and border workers, prioritized frontline healthcare worker subgroups, and aged care and disability staff.
A total of 678,000 individuals are expected to be vaccinated in phase 1a. It will, however, be ongoing, even as other phases commence.
Phase 1b focuses on the elderly population over 70 years, other health care workers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander citizens above 55 years. During this phase, younger adults with an underlying health condition and high-risk workers including police and firefighters will also receive the vaccination.
In phase 1b, GPs will get vaccinated. Dr. Price has assured that phase 1a will probably not last more than a week or two. So, GPs are on track to receive the vaccination in record time and possibly join the vaccination efforts.
Statistics released by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in August 2020 revealed that up to 80% of healthcare worker cases were in hospitals or aged care. Only 1.5% were linked to staff at GPs. This may explain why frontline healthcare worker subgroups are in Phase 1a and GPs in phase 1b.
Phase 2a will continue with the vaccination of other critical and high-risk workers including emergency services and meat processing. It will also focus on adults above 50 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people between 18 and 54 years.
Phase 2b and Phase 3
By phase 2b, the majority of critical workers and the elderly population will be vaccinated. The effort will then turn to the balance of the adult population as well as individuals in the previous phases.
Phase 3 will focus on vaccinating the younger population below 18 where recommended.
Breakdown of the vaccine supply
The first batch of vaccines will be the Pfizer vaccine, which has been granted provisional approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. They are expected to arrive in batches of 80,000 weekly. The Pfizer Jab will be dispensed strictly from hospital hubs because it requires very low temperatures.
The subsequent batches will be the AstraZeneca vaccine. It can be stored at regal temperatures and will be dispensed from GP clinics and pharmacies. While the AstraZeneca vaccine awaits approval, 1.2 million doses are expected to arrive in Australia in early March. Local production by CSL, the biotech company, will commence in late March at a projected rate of 1 million doses per week.
The role of GPs in vaccinating the population
The RACGP has said that GPs will be involved with vaccinations from early March. Dr. Price stated that clinics must express interest and complete additional training and there might be certifications and TGA minimum requirements for GPs.
Gradually, vaccinations are expected to expand to over a thousand distribution points, including larger GP-led clinics and Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services.
More GP clinics have shown interest in the vaccine rollout than were first expected. An estimated 1,000 were projected to register, but more than 2,000 have expressed interest. The vaccine rollout is a collective effort, as pharmacies have also been asked to submit expressions of interest. The Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, said this would give Australians more options and better access to the vaccine.
The vaccine rollout cannot commence soon enough, as the infectious virus continues to proliferate in communities. The vaccination effort expects to receive upwards of 60 million doses over the next few months, both from international and local sources, and GPs will join the effort as soon as possible.
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