14 Apr 2021

GPs say clear guidance needed over their role in vaccinations

6:59 pm on 14 April 2021

GPs say they're still in the dark about whether they will be helping the government meet its target of one million Covid-19 jabs by the end of June.

Dr Bryan Betty of Porirua Union and Community Health.

College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

More than 135,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been rolled out to date, and health agencies are poised to start giving vaccines to priority group three, including people older than 65, from late next month and be "well into" it by late June.

College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty said it was an achievable goal, except the government had not told them whether they would be needing to make space for appointments.

"At the moment we're a bit unclear as to what role general practices will play. We don't know what the expectations are within this vaccine rollout," he said.

"We need clear guidance on when things are stepping up, how they're ramping up and what that looks like to the end of the year."

He said clinics were already getting booked up with another important vaccination programme - flu jabs, which became available to those over 65 today.

If people were planning to get both the flu vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine in coming weeks and would be doing so at their GPs, Dr Betty said it would be a slightly more complex co-ordination job due to the need to leave two weeks between a flu vaccination and a Covid vaccination.

Meanwhile, the government's progress against vaccination forecasts is set to become clearer.

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins today said weekly updates would be provided against the government's forecasts, which had been created with input from health boards.

"It shows the planned vaccinations each week, and it will ultimately be the rolling total that we'll give you each Wednesday when we release the data," he said.

The government is also planning to include people's vaccination status in its new mandatory border testing register to keep track of which employees were getting their two-weekly Covid-19 swab.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins at 1pm Covid briefing, 14 April 2021.

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

It's a system being set up after officials admitted today that only a third of the companies involved in MIQ were using the government's existing register.

There are 513 frontline workers at MIQ facilities yet to get a vaccine - more than 10 percent of the total workforce, although Chris Hipkins said a quarter of those were booked in for jabs over the next few days.

The mandatory register gets the thumbs up from E tū union organiser Mat Danaher, who had been frustrated by the lack of clarity around the number of vaccinated MIQ employees, which until this week was given in the form of percentages.

"Certainly it was our understanding at one point the figures were over 90 percent and that seems to have reduced. I think it's understandable and not unreasonable that we've identified the reason that's reduced is due to relief workers and the fact that not everyone works in that space all the time. But you would certainly hope that the DHBs or the Ministry of Health would have a clearer picture by now," he said.

Danaher said the planned centralised system made sense.

"Obviously we need to be very aware and very careful of privacy conners and individuals' privacy, but we also recognise there is a responsibility here around public health," he said.

Hipkins said he was not opposed to more creative uses of any surplus jabs, after the Canterbury District Health Board received an excess 1400 doses last week, which needed to be used by today.

Some health board staff made personal social media posts to tell friends and family they could come and get the vaccines.

Christchurch GP Vanessa Weenink, who is the NZ Medical Association's General Practitioner Council chairperson, said she was surprised senior staff did not intervene with an official plan before the workers took an ad-hoc Facebook approach.

"It seems like there's a bit of a disconnect between the people operating the system and the people making plans. This just highlights that they need to probably tighten those systems up," she said.

In a statement the Canterbury District Health Board said the surplus was a "one-off exception" due to an ordering error.

Hipkins said the overall wastage of vaccines in New Zealand was low, about 3 percent.

About 60,000 to 70,000 vaccines are arriving in the country every week.

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