Melbourne GPs say they are being forced to turn away huge numbers of vaccine-seeking locals, including busloads of vulnerable residents from care facilities, because the commonwealth’s supply of doses has not increased to match the explosion in demand.
The latest outbreak has caused a huge increase in demand for the Covid-19 vaccine in Victoria, and the state is now recording daily vaccination numbers of above 20,000 in primary care, up from the roughly 2,300 doses administered on 24 May.
The demand has inundated local GPs, who say their supplies of vaccine doses are evaporating almost immediately.
Some clinics say they have made urgent requests to the federal government for higher dose allocations, only to be rejected.
The Inner North Medical Clinic in Brunswick currently has an allocation of 300 doses per fortnight.
Dr Shea Wilcox said the current demand means it is using its entire fortnight supply in a single day.
The undersupply has forced the clinic to turn away thousands of residents seeking the vaccine since the outbreak began.
“Our books are overflowing with people trying to get the vaccine that we don’t have doses for. The vaccine supply is still a really critical problem for us,” he said.
Wilcox told the Guardian that the undersupply was so severe that it was forced to turn away two local supported living facilities.
One facility had arranged buses to take its residents, who have mental health issues, to the clinic be vaccinated. Wilcox said the clinic had to turn them away due to undersupply.
“We’ve had to say ‘sorry, we can’t do that’,” he said.
GP Nathan Pinskier reported similar issues across his two clinics in Melbourne.
“It’s just been staggering what’s happened in the last 10 days or so,” he told the Guardian. “We were struggling to fill appointments at all our clinics, and we were building up a small reserve of vaccines, and once this outbreak occurred, it’s completely reversed.”
He said the commonwealth’s system was not agile enough to respond to the kind of demand surge seen in Melbourne.
Requests for allocation increases take more than a fortnight to process, he said, and the Covid-19 vaccination funding model, which bills through individual GPs rather than the clinic itself, means doctors must be present for all vaccinations, rather than simply using nurses.
That restricted the ability to administer vaccines at large volumes, he said.
“As soon as we open up appointments at any of our sites, they just fill up within about 15 minutes,” Pinskier said.
“I’ve put a call in with the commonwealth, and I’ll continue to raise it with the commonwealth, that we need an urgent increase to supply.”
The health department said it had released an additional 130,000 vaccines to support Victoria on 26 May.
“To date, 787,780 Covid vaccines have been delivered to the Victorian state government with 513,375 vaccines administered through Victorian government vaccine clinics. 958,540 vaccines have been delivered to primary care sites in Victoria with 624,875 vaccines administered through primary care sites in Victoria,” a spokeswoman said.
“A further 71,370 Pfizer and 101,100 AstraZeneca vaccines will be delivered to the Victorian state government this week and approximately 92,000 AstraZeneca vaccines will be delivered to primary care sites in Victoria by the end of the week.”
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has also vented its frustration at the aged care vaccination program, saying there was ample time to have the sector vaccinated, had its members been allowed to play a role.
Dr Khayyam Altaf, chair of RACGP Specific Interests Aged Care, told the college’s news publication, NewsGP, that the federal government had placed too much reliance on private contractors.
“There’s been over-reliance on a private vaccination provider that’s led to restrictions with delays and their availability to get the vaccinations done,” he said.
“GPs have been left out … and I would say that’s a decision-making error. And it’s now clearly evident.”