22 Apr 2021

Covid-19 rollout: NSW clinic faces hiccups from supply to misinformation

5:58 pm on 22 April 2021

A Sydney GP says Australian vaccination clinics have faced transparency and supply issues in their bid to help protect the nation against Covid-19.

A woman receives her vaccine.

A woman receives her vaccination at the Northbridge Medical Practice in Sydney. Photo: Tess Brunton

The Commonwealth-funded, GP-led vaccination clinics are part of Australia's vaccine rollout.

So far, more than 1.6 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered across Australia.

A number of hurdles means it is a far cry from the government's initial target of vaccinating four million people by the end of March.

Three days a week, a vaccination clinic opens up opposite the Northbridge Medical Practice in Sydney's lower North Shore for morning and afternoon sessions.

The signs start as you enter the lobby: turn left for the vaccine clinic, or right to see your GP.

Booked out for weeks

Dr Brian Morton, who set up the appointment-only clinic, said they were booked out weeks in advance after first opening in late March.

"So about 160 a day - not quite that many - to cover the 400 doses. If we drop down then we're not guaranteed of continuing that 400 doses a week," Dr Morton said.

The rooms set aside for the clinic are simple and sparse. People are greeted at the front admin desk, before walking through to a larger room with socially distanced seating at both ends.

One is for those waiting and the other is for those who have had the vaccine to sit down for 15 minutes to check for any immediate reactions.

The vaccinators take each person into a separate room with two desks - each with a tray of pre-loaded syringes, a laptop, cotton buds, a bin, bandaids and a pile of papers.

They check people's details, their eligibility for a vaccination and go over the potential side-effects before asking for consent and picking up their syringe.

Most of the people we saw had booked their appointment and completed their paperwork online.

Dr Morton said they had five-minute slots so they could make the most of the time, but opening the clinic was not without its hurdles - they faced a big one in their first week.

"There was a delivery failure and so we had to cancel a whole day's worth of patients, and that's extremely frustrating and when you're booked out for a month in advance, where do you put them?

"That was the first problem/hiccup."

It was not just the supply issue that caused frustration. Dr Morton said transparency and communication had been lacking.

Dr Brian Morton works at his desk in the vaccination clinic.

Dr Brian Morton works at his desk in the vaccination clinic. Photo: Tess Brunton

Some general practices still did not know why they were not chosen or how the numbers of vaccines had been allocated, he said.

"We need to be regularly informed of any hiccup or any change, and it's not really good enough to post it online and say it's on the website because ... you've got to be aware and when you're giving patients every five minutes a Covid vaccine and it has to be efficient and quick to cover the population, you can't be looking at your emails or website or alerts. It needs to be really a very slick process from the top down."

Fighting misinformation

He was also fighting against misinformation and sensationalism.

"You walk into a chemist and the pharmacist said to me 'all these medications on the shelf have a greater number of side-effects than in fact the vaccine'. So there's been an unreality about the risk to the community of a vaccine."

That slows down the process as those giving the vaccines need to ensure people are well-informed before they agree to a jab.

Right now they can only offer the AstraZeneca vaccine which is the backbone of the country's vaccination strategy.

The patch of Astrazeneca vaccine.

The patch of Astrazeneca vaccine. Photo: Simon Rogers

But earlier this month the rollout faced a major shake-up when AstraZeneca was no longer recommended for people under-50 following concerns of rare blood clots potentially linked to it.

As Dr Morton put it, the risk was very low, but the process was built on informed consent.

With no community cases at present, he said it could be better to wait for the Pfizer vaccine for some healthy, fit under-50s.

"I think there has to be an understanding that no vaccine is 100 percent protective."

John Healy, a resident of the Wesley Taylor aged care facility, becomes the second person in Australia to receive a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Castle Hill Medical Centre in Sydney on February 21, 2021. (Photo by STEVEN SAPHORE / AFP)

John Healy, an aged care facility resident, becomes the second person in Australia to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Castle Hill Medical Centre in Sydney on 21 February, 2021. Photo: AFP or licensors

Dr Morton did not want to waste the vaccine, so if any was left over the clinic would try to offer it to someone else if they were willing to give their consent.

GP-led clinics were an obvious choice to help get the population vaccinated as they were a specialised group well-versed in administering vaccines, Dr Morton said.

They also had a moral responsibility to protect the community, he said.

While Australia's vaccine rollout has faced criticism that it was lagging behind, Dr Morton called for more patience.

"The vaccine should stay in high risk places and we should be content as a member of the world body to wait to get sufficient supplies because we're not at the same risk [as other countries]."

Each patient visiting the clinic is expected return in roughly 12 weeks for a second AstraZeneca shot.

Dr Morton was hopeful more GP-led vaccination clinics could be set up in the coming months to aid Australia's rollout.

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