The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is calling for the Government to prioritise the annual distribution of influenza vaccines to general practice.
In a survey in April 2020 of more than 1,100 GPs from every state and territory in Australia, 55% reported that they were unable to access enough stock to provide flu vaccinations to their patients.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said the delay many patients faced to get their flu vaccine this year was unacceptable and needed to be urgently addressed.
“The problem was never that there was shortage of the flu vaccine. The Government secured enough of the special flu vaccine for over 65s, who are more vulnerable, for everyone in the country, and we commended them for this.
“The problem is with the distribution of the flu vaccine and it has been a problem for a long time. Every year we see the same issue – the vaccine comes too slowly to GP clinics and we don’t get enough of it for our patients.
“This year we saw increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were glad to see people heeding our advice – the RACGP and other medical bodies advised people to get their vaccine earlier than usual to prevent the double whammy of the flu and COVID-19 and reduce pressure on the health system.
“We could not have anticipated this pandemic but we learned a big lesson from it when we saw the impact it had on patients getting their flu shot – the cracks in the distribution system gaped open and many people had to wait far too long.
“Australia has a world class healthcare system. Nobody living here, particularly those who are vulnerable, should have to wait weeks for a vaccine.
“We need to fix this problem now. We don’t want to face it again next year, or the next time there’s a public health crisis and we need to urgently get vaccines to clinics across the country.”
The RACGP is urging the Government to prioritise the annual distribution of influenza vaccines to general practice, among a number of other changes to meet the needs of patients across Australia, particularly vulnerable groups.
The RACGP is calling for:
1. Improved supply and demand modelling to better estimate patient demand in each practice and allocate adequate stock.
2. Adequate supply of influenza vaccines must be prioritised to general practice ahead of pharmacies to ensure access and better health outcomes for patients. Only GPs have the medical training required to safely administer vaccines and manage adverse reactions. Patients who go to their GP also benefit from continuity of care, opportunities for screening and preventative healthcare.
3. Clear public communication to ensure patients get the right vaccine at the right time and don’t unnecessarily pay for a private vaccine they could have received free from their general practice under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). In most state and territories vulnerable patients need to go to a GP to obtain the publically-funded flu vaccine. The increase in pharmacy advertising is misleading patients – resulting in patients paying for the vaccine unnecessarily, getting their vaccine too early in the year, and vulnerable patients not getting the most effective vaccine.
Despite the challenges this year, the RACGP survey of its members found the overwhelming majority, nearly 98%, were providing the flu vaccine to their patients.
Well over half of those surveyed had set up special arrangements to provide the vaccine to patients – with 30.1% allocating set clinic times for flu vaccinations, 18.12% delivering vaccines outdoors, and 19.39% setting up other types of arrangements.
The RACGP President said the results should provide piece of mind to patients.
“These results show GPs across the country have been providing the flu vaccine to their patients. This should provide some piece of mind to patients who are worried about being able to get their vaccine from their GP.
“My message for patients who haven’t had their flu vaccine yet is this: call your GP to discuss getting the right vaccine for your age group – while you may need to wait a little bit there is no need to panic, you will be able to get it.”
“I also want to reassure patients that it remains safe to visit your GP, as we know many patients have been avoiding important medical appointments since the pandemic hit – this is very concerning as it could lead to an increase in illness.”
“General practice has world-class infection prevention and control processes. So remember when you visit your GP to get your flu vaccine this year they might be doing things a little differently but it remains safe.”
The RACGP recently ran a nationwide campaign, Expert Advice Matters, to encourage people to keep taking care of their health. The campaign website, www.expertadvicematters.com.au, has practical advice for patients on how they can see their GP on the phone or using videoconferencing platforms, as well as in-person for the flu vaccine or face-to-face consultation. The advert can be viewed online at: https://youtu.be/xdv-dYMpwmQ