Mar 19, 2021

Lack of government booking website leaves GPs disadvantaged in the face of next stage vaccine program

Doctor giving Covid vaccine to senior woman
Image credit: iStock Ridofranz

Phase 1b of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins today, but with no governmental booking website available, medical professionals are being forced to turn away eligible Australians as they attempt to make vaccination appointments. 

This next phase will see GPs able to vaccinate eligible Australians – including people aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55, healthcare workers not covered in phase 1a and adults with underlying medical conditions. 

However, with no available booking website, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Medical Association have said that it’s too early to be making appointments, with many clinics still unable to say how many doses they will receive. 

So far, 1,000 clinics have been allocated to receive a share of the imported AstraZeneca vaccine, but with the second phase now being rolled out, the differences between the goal rate of vaccinations and the actual number of vaccinations is apparent. 

Phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccine makes another 6.14 million Australians eligible to receive the immunisation. Speaking after Prime Minister Scott Morrison received his second dose of the vaccine on Sunday, health department secretary, Professor Brendan Murphy, said this next stage would begin rollout on March 22, despite the current phase being so far behind targets. 

Instead of a governmental online booking tool, the government launched new website ‘Is it true?’ on Sunday, with the task of dispelling vaccine misinformation and popular conspiracies. Prof Murphy did acknowledge that this website had been launched before a vaccine booking tool for GPs, despite that being commissioned first. 

This website features tools like an eligibility checker, outlines of the different phases of the rollout, as well as plenty of information about the vaccine and rollout, and contact details for the COVID-19 vaccination helpline and enquiries website. 

Speaking to The Guardian, RACGP president, Dr Karen Price, said that it was a “mystery” as to why the government hadn’t set up the booking website first, noting that GPs were already being overwhelmed with calls of people attempting to book their vaccine. 

She also made note that an online booking process should have been made available earlier so Australians over 70 years old could have more time to familiarise themselves with the website and the booking process with plenty of time before their eligible rollout was opened. 

“You can imagine some people are going to find it hard to navigate,” Dr Price said. 

“Patients are wanting that booking system to be up.

“Receptionists are already getting overwhelmed with these calls.”

The AMA vice-president, Dr Chris Moy, told The Guardian that even if there was an online booking tool, it may not be of much use as clinics still have inadequate information about how many vaccines they will have available to them. 

Without an online booking process, the goal of administering 4 million doses by the end of March is falling further out of reach.

“It wouldn’t be possible for most practices to take bookings now,” Dr Moy said. 

“Practices only found out last week how many vaccines they’ll get … [but] some haven’t been given the numbers they’re getting.” 

Dr Moy also expressed that as things currently stand, GPs are at a disadvantage and ill-equipped for the Phase 1b COVID-19 rollout to begin on March 22, and that it is likely some GPs will have to turn away people looking to get vaccinated, despite being eligible. 

“This won’t be like the flu shot, where there’s certainty of dose numbers.”

“There’s got to be a period of us finding our feet on this,” he said.

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