GPs are key to border reopening

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The recent Federal Budget made it clear that Australian border reopening will be contingent on the success of the vaccine roll-out. However, the government’s position raises more questions than it answers. For example, how much vaccination coverage will be acceptable for the reopening of the borders.

According to former Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, the answer isn’t very clear. “We don’t know [how much vaccination would be sufficient] and I think we need to be honest about that,” he stated. Coatsworth also added, “It’s going to be difficult as a nation because we are so comfortable at the moment because we did so well in restricting the numbers [of Covid-19 cases].”

Coatsworth’s concerns are also shared by Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton. According to him, the country’s success in eliminating community transmission has resulted in a reduced sense of urgency with the public. As a result, many don’t want to get vaccinated.

“We need to somehow communicate to the public that we’ve gotten to a place of complacency because we’ve driven transmission to zero but we will face newly emerging transmission, and a critical juncture where we need to make a call on letting it run,” he said.

Read: Pharmacists may not be involved in vaccine roll-out until June

In addressing the lack of urgency, Associate Professor and Chair of RACGP NSW / ACT Charlotte Hespe suggests that the best approach is to support GPs as they re-educate the people. “I understand where some might be coming from, but I think that GPs do actually play a fairly important role [in persuading people to get vaccinated],” she said in an interview.

Hespe also went further to say that she’s always having conversations where she’s convincing people to get vaccinated sooner than later.

Hespe reminds that the rollout was designed as a mass vaccination effort rather than a long and drawn-out conversation. According to her, GPs will need more time with each individual for proper counselling.

“It’s a Level A payment, so it’s less than five minutes of your time as a GP, so it’s pretty dismal and GPs are feeling a bit caught about how much time they are allowed to counsel… so we’re trying to obtain an item number for Covid vaccine counselling. The idea is that we get a Level B consultation that enables time for a proper conversation prior to you actually consenting and vaccinating,” Hespe said.

More Australians are rejecting Covid-19 Vaccines

The most recent Essential report suggests that confidence in the vaccine rollout is reducing since individuals under 50 were switched to the Pfizer vaccine. According to the report, only 43% of Australians think the rollout is being efficient, and 63% think it’s being done safely. Additionally, only half of the surveyed population believe the vaccine will be effective at stopping Covid-19.

Compared to a previous report in March, there’s about 15% less confidence in the vaccination protocols. Worse still, 1 in 6 people say they will never get vaccinated - previous reports indicate that only 1 in 10 people felt this way.

These findings line up perfectly with some GP observations that several patients have missed their vaccination appointments, despite the increased supply of vaccines. Even though only 1090 Australians were surveyed, Associate Professor Holly Seale who’s a social scientist with UNSW’s School of Public Health believes the figures should be taken seriously.

In response, she believes a new approach to educating the public is needed. “If people aren’t turning up to GP clinics, that presents a challenge… We’ve got to be mindful that we’re in a very different phase now, and while a huge amount of people still listen to the radio and watch television, it doesn’t talk to everybody”, she said.

“For example organisations have staff occupational health and safety programs already embedded and for years have been offering flu vaccination… can we get GPs and primary care nurses to be partnering with these organisations to actually have a chance to go in and do a half-an-hour presentation or Q&A session?”

Read: Australians React to the AstraZeneca Vaccine

The Pandemic was preventable - WHO commissioned report

According to the report, the pandemic didn’t need to cost millions of lives if the world had responded more quickly. The report was published by an independent panel, chaired by the former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, and former president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The report also said that preparation was inconsistent and underfunded, the alert system was slow and unenergetic, and the WHO was underpowered. It also described February 2020 as a lost opportunity to turn the tides of the pandemic because many countries chose to wait and see. 

Read: Government restricts telehealth MBS access to a patient’s regular GP

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