Frustration as Australians over 70 get green light to book a COVID vaccination but GP clinics are caught unprepared



Six million people will become eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccination from Monday, but plenty are struggling to actually book an appointment.

Details for hundreds of GP clinics across the country went live on Wednesday morning, encouraging those eligible to book in either online or over the phone.

It took many of those GP clinics by surprise, as phones began ringing off the hook.

Plaza Medical in Kalgoorlie is listed as one of just two vaccine providers in the remote mining town.

Rob Sterry, from the clinic, said they had no idea it was coming — and had been dealing with eager and confused patients all morning.

“It’s frustrating for them, and it’s frustrating for us,” he said.

The clinic does not have software ready to take bookings yet, but it is hoping to start providing shots from next week.

In some cases, GP clinics have told people they did not know the vaccine rollout was happening at their practice.

Another practice manager expressed frustration that it felt like they were being told what was happening, after the general public.

But Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was always the plan to make the announcement on Wednesday, appearing to contradict the reports from clinics.

“All practices … that are listed today have actually made — not only been approved — but they have made orders themselves,” he said.

Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said Australia was not in a hurry with the rollout and people should not badger their GPs.

“While some GP clinics are coming online next week, they won’t be releasing appointments until they’re sure of their vaccine deliveries which are coming in the next day or two,” he said.

People not comfortable using the internet, can call the national coronavirus helpline on 1800 020 080.

Patients urged to show patience

As part of Stage 1b of the rollout, all Australians aged 70 or over become eligible for the vaccine, along with more healthcare and frontline workers, and some with specific medical conditions.

Some were keen to make their appointment on Wednesday morning, logging online to find their nearest available GP and do so — and contacted the ABC with their frustrations when they found out that was not possible.

“I was told they do not even have these injections in stock, and will not be taking phone bookings until approximately April 12, so a big disappointment,” one person said.

Another said they were not given a date on when they might be able to get in.

“I went online to the government site and found that I qualified and phoned the nearest clinic and was advised that they are not taking appointments,” he said.

“When I enquired when I could get an appointment I was advised that they could not confirm when I could get a shot! What is going on?

“I went through the government web site and hit a dead end! I phoned several clinics from the site and none of them even had the Vax!”

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Can vaccinated people still transmit the virus?

Australian Medical Association president Omar Korshid said those GP practices taking part from next week would only receive between 50 to 100 doses.

The Government expects that 4,000 GP clinics will be able to administer the vaccines by the end of April.

The ABC also spoke to some people who were turned away from listed GP clinics because they were not already a patient at that practice.

Dr Korshid said they would have to wait.

“For Australians whose usual GP is not involved in the initial rollout or not going to be involved at all, there are other options for accessing the vaccine,” he said.

“We are hoping to see significant state-run vaccination clinics as well as the Commonwealth-run respiratory clinics, so there will be options for all Australians to go and get themselves vaccinated.

“But as we have very limited vaccine available in the country, it is going to take some time.”

Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler said the national booking system should have been tested and finalised well in advanced.  

“We have been saying for weeks now that these key systems, particularly the system that drives how people can book a vaccine, should have been in place weeks ago,” Mr Butler said 

“We knew last year that we were going to have to conduct mass vaccination. The government should have had these systems tested and finalised weeks before the first phase of broad community rollout of Phase 1B was anywhere close to being initiated.

“They’ve been too slow and too late putting these systems in place, and unfortunately it’s no surprise that there is this sort of chaos and confusion you see out there, which is incredibly frustrating to GPs, the staff of GP practices that have been inundated with phone calls today that they are not able to respond to, and particularly the frustration for patients.”

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