General practitioners claim they’ve been allocated a “laughable” supply of vaccine for the rollout to youngsters, and they’re worried they won’t be able to get them inoculated in time for the start of school in February.
Parents in Sydney and Melbourne are also reporting that system issues have caused long-awaited bookings to be cancelled or that they have been unable to schedule appointments for their children.
The Pfizer vaccine is being rolled out to 2.3 million children aged 5-11 on Monday, giving families a short window to arrange appointments before the school year begins in late January or early February.
Lt Gen John Frewen, the director of Australia’s vaccine taskforce, said last week that the country has enough vaccine to give first doses to every child “either within January or in the early weeks of February.”
However, GPs, who make up one of the key distribution routes, claim they’re having identical issues to those that plagued the disastrous adult rollout earlier this year.
Dose allocations are insufficient to allow for broad vaccination, and GPs are unsure whether shipments will arrive in time for Monday’s start date.
In Melbourne, Dr. Shea Wilcox claims that his clinic has been guaranteed only 100 children’s doses every week. The facility claims to be able to deliver 1,000 dosages every week. They’ve been inundated with calls from parents hoping for appointments before the start of the school year.
“People are calling us and saying, ‘the prime minister said there are doses, and we want those.’ “We’re saying ‘we don’t have any doses,'” he explained.
“A hundred doses every week is ridiculous.” “How about 30 families, each with three children?”
GPs placed vaccine dose orders in mid-December, but shipments will not begin arriving until late this week, just days before the deployment begins.
There isn’t much room for error in this situation. If shipments are delayed, Wilcox and others will have to cancel Monday reservations.
“We don’t have any vaccines for children in the fridge,” he said. “Parents are becoming increasingly concerned as case numbers rise, and the government claims there are vaccines.”
Dr Maria Boulton, a Brisbane GP and clinic owner, has been given only 100 tablets each week, which won’t arrive until the 14th of January, two to three weeks before most schools return for the year.
Her clinic serves 1,500 children aged 5 to 11. It would take her more than three months to vaccinate them all with the current dose allocation.
GP clinics saw similar supply and distribution challenges during the early stages of the adult vaccination programme last year. Boulton’s clinic hasn’t been taking appointments until she has the pills in her hands, since she is still traumatised by the ordeal.
When asked if the government had learned from that experience, Boulton replied, “No.” Once again, health officials’ communication with GPs has been inadequate, and we tend to learn about things through the media.”
Boulton claimed that as the number of Covid cases grew, she would have to cut back on her personnel because they were either contaminated or isolated.
Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, a paediatrician in Melbourne’s west, told Guardian Australia that his clinic only had 200 pills left to vaccinate 1,400 children.
He was also dealing with the loss of 19 employees and increased pressure from the clinic’s provision of Covid tests.
“We also have to keep up with business as normal.” “There are still a lot of problems,” he stated via text.
Dr Anita Munoz, a Victorian representative for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said the shortage of doses given to GPs was a major issue.
“GPs are frustrated,” she told the Guardian Australia. “We’d want to see more doses delivered with each delivery.”
She added the adult booster campaign, high Covid-19 case numbers, workforce difficulties, and business as usual were all putting a strain on the sector right now, on top of the children’s vaccine programme.
“I have reservations about getting all the kids vaccinated before then,” she remarked when asked if GPs will be able to vaccinate children before the start of school. I’m not convinced it’ll happen.”
Pfizer for children has been evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and is being delivered to primary care and state clinics, according to a representative for Health Minister Greg Hunt.
“All orders are on track to be delivered as scheduled and advised to providers,” a representative for Operation Covid Shield said.
“By the end of January, the government will have secured sufficient supplies of the 5-11 year doses to provide all children with a first dose.” Week-by-week allocations are determined by individual vaccine providers’ ordering rates.”
There are also issues with the various booking systems for children’s vaccines.
Last year, Prof Alexandra Martiniuk, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney, scheduled her children’s immunizations as soon as possible. In the first week of the rollout, both were supposed to have their first injections at the Mona Vale immunisation centre in Sydney.
She was notified two days ago that all vaccine appointments at the Mona Vale vaccination hub had been cancelled, and that she would have to find available slots for her children elsewhere. Despite having a family member who is susceptible to Covid-19, this effectively put her at the back of the line.
She inquired with NSW Health about vaccination triage in order to prioritise more at-risk households. She was told that such a technique does not exist.
“We’re in a crazy condition, as we all know, with Omicron on so many fronts,” she told Guardian Australia. “But the issue is, we’ve known for months that child immunizations were coming.”