Scott Morrison – Scott Morrison urged by James Merlino to show more urgency on vaccines as more traces of COVID-19 detected in wastewater
“These are the things that we will be urgently raising with the federal government at national cabinet,” Mr Merlino said.
“In hourly conversations between our public health officials and Commonwealth health officials, we put on the table that Pfizer should be under 50s, AstraZeneca should be diverted to Victorian GPs. We’re open to do much more.”
The federal government controls vaccine supply to every state and territory and is managing GPs’ participation in the rollout, meaning Canberra must tick off on any transfer of doses, rather than the Victorian government.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Karen price backed Mr Merlino’s suggestion, telling The Age GPs were happy with their central role but had been stifled by a lack of vaccine supply.
“General practice is front and centre in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and ensuring practices have sufficient stock of the AstraZeneca vaccine to protect vulnerable populations in phase 1b is our highest priority,” Dr price said.
“GPs and general practice staff are doing a wonderful job. However, many have expressed frustration that they simply do not have enough stock to ramp up their vaccination efforts.”
Dr price said mass vaccination sites “can help fill the gaps” but should not impede staffing and vaccine supply to GPs.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is planning similar vaccination hubs to those suggested by the Prime Minister.
Former Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone revealed he was “surprised” by Mr Morrison’s new inclination towards mass vaccination hubs on Wednesday.
In a sign of support for Victoria’s suggestion to send spare AstraZeneca vaccines to GPs, Dr Bartone said most people in the current phase 1b of the rollout preferred to receive the vaccine at their GP.
Phase 1b includes those aged over 70, Indigenous people over 50, adults with underlying medical conditions or a disability, healthcare workers not in phase 1a and household contacts of quarantine and border workers.
“GP clinics were always going to be the focus of the 1b rollout, then into 2a pharmacists were going to join on board,” Dr Bartone said.
“But 1b is general-practice led, and that’s where patients want to go to have their concerns about this vaccine spoken about and to have that reliability of supply.”
Following the Prime Minister’s statement over the weekend that he could not set a new goal for vaccinating all Australians due to a series of uncertainties, on Wednesday he floated the target of vaccinating all Australians against coronavirus before 2022.
Victoria’s vaccination numbers dipped as low as 903 on Sunday, typically the lowest day of the week, before growing to 2426 on Monday and 2890 on Tuesday. Australia’s original plan was for vaccinations to increase exponentially throughout April.
Just over 150,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Victoria, meaning fewer than 75,000 people or 1.1 per cent of the state’s population is fully immunised as both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs require two doses.
On Thursday Victorian health authorities announced more unexpected detections of COVID-19 fragments in two wastewater catchments.
One is a very large catchment that services suburbs stretching from Melbourne’s north-west to the outer north-east and the alert applies to people who were in that area between April 4 and April 12. The other collects waste from Cranbourne and surrounding suburbs and covers April 6 to April 12.
Anyone with symptoms is urged to come forward for testing immediately.
No new locally-acquired cases were recorded in the state for the 48th consecutive day, while five new cases were recorded in hotel quarantine. The number of active cases in the state, all in hotel quarantine, is eight.
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Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.