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The Australian Medical Association is pushing for COVID-19 vaccines to be fast-tracked into general practices amid a growing Pfizer shortage in Victoria fuelled by an explosion in the number of people getting vaccinated.
Some general practitioners are warning they will not have enough vials to administer second doses and keep pace with demand without an immediate boost to their dwindling vaccine supply, as Victorians in their thousands line up for their first dose.
People queue up for COVID-19 vaccination at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre early on Wednesday morning.Credit:Eddie Jim
Their plea for more vaccines from the federal government came as the AMA’s Victorian chief called on other states to contribute Pfizer doses to boost Victoria’s supplies during its current outbreak.
It also follows a warning from Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng that Pfizer doses were swiftly drying up across the state, and that vaccine providers were running off a small stockpile.
“If we had more, we would give more,” Professor Cheng said on Thursday.
“We are still vaccinating at the moment. In terms of forward bookings, there is a shortage, but I am not sure exactly when that supply will become available.”
However, a spokeswoman for federal health minister Greg Hunt disputed there was a Pfizer shortage in the state, and said that as of Thursday morning there were 160,000 unused Pfizer doses in Victoria.
“A further delivery of 71,370 Pfizer vaccines will be delivered tomorrow,” she said on Thursday.
The Victorian government said any suggestion by the federal government of stockpiling was false.
A state government spokeswoman said Victoria’s vaccination rate was up to 140,000 doses a week. “We must retain a certain number of doses to ensure all Victorians receive their second dose,” she said.
One man brought an office chair to wait his turn for a coronavirus vaccine at the Melbourne Showgrounds on ThursdayCredit:Paul Rovere
Victoria receives 110,000 doses a week from the federal government, about 30,000 fewer than it is currently administering.
The AMA’s Victorian president Roderick McRae backed Professor Cheng and said state and federal governments must do everything they can to ensure sufficient supply of Pfizer in Victoria, including requesting supply be redirected from other states and overseas.
“It would be an investment by other states if they sent supply in to help Victoria knuckle this one down,” Dr McRae said. “It’s of benefit to everyone in Australia that the current outbreak in Victoria is suppressed.”
Victoria’s current coronavirus outbreak, which swelled by another three cases on Thursday to a total of 63, has sparked a sharp increase in demand for the vaccine. There were more than 50,000 vaccine doses administered in Victoria on Wednesday.
Some people in Victoria eligible for the Pfizer vaccine are continuing to report difficulties in getting appointments at state-run vaccination centres.
The state government expanded eligibility criteria last week, opening vaccination centres to people aged 40 to 49 to access the Pfizer vaccine, resulting in long queues at the hubs.
Dr McRae said the AMA also wants GPs to be able to administer both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to their maximum capacity. Currently, GP clinics administer doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“GPs can deliver Pfizer, and they need to be given supply,” Dr McRae said.
“The logistic demands of delivering two doses of two separate vaccines are significant and it’s time to give GPs the additional support that they need.“
Mukesh Haikerwal’s medical clinic in Altona North on Thursday became the first general practice in Victoria to begin administering Pfizer shots.
Staff at the Pfizer hub administered 120 doses on Thursday to patients under the age of 50, many of whom had underlying health conditions and had been on vaccine waiting lists for months.
Another batch of 120 doses will be kept in an on-site fridge so every patient who received their first dose would get their second jab within the recommended 21 days.
GP Mukesh Haikerwal administers a dose of Pfizer to Amanda Ashton.Credit:Eddie Jim
“We need to be securing more vaccines into Victoria full-stop,” Dr Haikerwal, a former AMA national president, said. “We need as many doses in fridges as possible to help contain this outbreak.”
Nathan Pinskier, who runs six medical clinics across Melbourne, said the outbreak had triggered an “unprecedented and phenomenal demand” for the vaccine.
He made urgent calls to Victoria’s Department of Health to double his supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine from 1400 doses to 2800 a week, and wanted to secure Pfizer shots for his clinics as soon as possible.
“Last week we did 2000 doses of the vaccine, but I could have easily done 4000 because our booking system has been completely overwhelmed,” he said.
Dr Pinskier feared that in two weeks time, healthcare workers would need to administer hundreds of thousands more doses so patients could receive their second doses to ensure full protection against the virus.
“We need to bring on additional 800,000 shots within our own group of Victorian GPs and also a significant number of secondaries across Australia,” he said.
“We need at least that amount on top of the growing current demand for first shots of the vaccine in Victoria.”
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Karen Price said the challenge for doctors now was balancing getting as many people vaccinated with their first dose as possible, while ensuring there was ample supply for second doses.
“It’s a real dilemma and each clinic has got to go through that challenge in terms of absolutely making sure that 12 weeks after the first they’ve got enough supply for that second dose,” Dr Price said.
Dr Price said she wanted Pfizer to be widely available in general practices, but the pace of the rollout was dictated by supply constraints.
Medical clinics that were already disturbing high volumes of vaccines would likely be prioritised once more Pfizer supplies were secured because they had the space and resources, she said.
“The government is very aware of the great job that general practice has done in administering the vaccine,” Dr Price said.
“They are also distributing supplies of Pfizer out to, firstly, the GP respiratory clinics and then, as the overseas supply comes in, more and more general practices will have an availability of it.”
Australia receives around 350,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine a week, dropping to 300,000 in June, and then ramping up to 600,000 weekly for July, August and September.
Australian Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said last week about 70,000 doses of Pfizer would be delivered to Victoria this week.
The Victorian government has been contacted for comment.
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