End the confusion about who can get which vaccine, plead doctors
With expanded supplies of the Pfizer vaccine arriving, state and federal governments must urgently clarify eligibility criteria, says the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), citing inconsistencies across borders.
The plea comes after several changes to eligibility and different criteria depending on where a person lives, which the RACGP says has resulted in considerable confusion.
For example, in Western Australia, anyone over the age of 30 is eligible to receive a Pfizer vaccine, while anyone over the age of 16 can get that same vaccine in the Northern Territory and some rural areas of South Australia. In Greater Sydney, patients who have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine are now being encouraged to consider having their second dose at six weeks rather than at 12 weeks.
In addition, the government announced on 28 June that any Australian aged under 60 can receive the AstraZeneca vaccine after talking through their options with their GP. The RACGP says this is only applicable to Commonwealth sites such as general practices, not state-based vaccine hubs, creating even more confusion about where people can get their vaccine.
RACGP president Dr Karen Price says it’s time for consistent messaging from governments.
“The RACGP is calling on the federal, state, and territory governments to make it crystal clear who currently has access to which vaccine and where they can get them,” she says.
“Patients across Australia are suffering from ‘information overload’ and confused about their eligibility status and what next steps they should take. The goalposts seem to be shifting every other day.
“Different states and territories might need different eligibility settings for perfectly good reasons to suit the local context and needs, such as what we are currently seeing in Greater Sydney. However, practices administering vaccines in locations where the state eligibility requirements differ from the federal eligibility requirements are shouldering an unnecessary burden.
“It is wasting time and causing unnecessary pain for practice teams at a time when they are busier than ever doing the job of rolling out COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible, while also continuing regular care for their patients."
Dr Price says governments must work together through national cabinet to ensure that each jurisdiction’s eligibility criteria are clearly available to all vaccine providers and patients, and information needs to be updated immediately as changes occur.
She also reinforced the view that Astra Zeneca was a sound option when compared to the risks of COVID, especially for more vulnerable patients including older people. "The second dose, in particular, is essential to protect against severe hospitalisation, severe illness and death," she says.