The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging government to ensure general practice is front and centre in any potential COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
The latest edition of the Australian Journal of General Practice, which is published by the RACGP, features a paper* from authors Margie Danchin, Ruby Biezen, Jo-Anne Manski-Nankervis, Jessica Kaufman and Julie Leask titled “Preparing the public for COVID-19 vaccines: How can general practitioners build vaccine confidence and optimise uptake for themselves and their patients?”
The paper provides a framework for primary care to optimise COVID-19 vaccine confidence and uptake in Australia. It warns that although billions of dollars will be invested in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, their arrival “will not assure vaccine acceptance”.
RACGP Acting President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda said that the paper came at a crucial time.
“This paper clearly outlines why GPs must be significantly involved in any COVID-19 vaccination program from the first available opportunity,” Associate Professor Shenouda said.
“We should not wait until the day after a vaccine becomes available to consider the role of general practice. Past mass vaccination programs have demonstrated that planning for vaccine rollout and community engagement needs to start beforehand.
“So in order to optimise confidence and uptake, GPs must be properly consulted and significantly involved from start to finish. That includes our work in educating patients and carers about the vaccine, administering it, recording uptake and reporting any adverse events.
“This paper refers to studies from the H1N1 pandemic, which showed that GPs were highly influential in encouraging vaccine uptake. The stakes are even higher this time, so we must get this right.
“As the authors state, GPs will need up-to-date information about the vaccine and be engaged in pre-vaccination planning to counteract anti-vaxxer campaigning and address patient doubts about mass vaccination policies.
“As with any vaccine it is likely that some patients may have a mild reaction, such as pain at the vaccine site. The community will need to be reassured that these mild reactions can be easily managed with something as simple as paracetamol or ibuprofen and that it does not mean the vaccine is unsafe.
“GPs are best placed to deliver that message to patients in Australia. We are connected to our communities, we have delivered vaccines before, we know our patients and they trust us.
“For this same reason GPs will be vital in undertaking strong community engagement, particularly with culturally and linguistically diverse communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. GPs who live and work in these communities will know how to talk to patients in a responsive and culturally appropriate way if met with concerns about the vaccine.
“General practice is the safest place deliver a COVID-19 vaccination. GPs draw on a comprehensive patient history and are equipped with the training and facilities to respond promptly in the rare case that a patient responds adversely to a vaccination. General practice is also connected to the Australian Immunisation Register to ensure accurate record keeping of vaccine administration.
“We stand ready to support large-scale government efforts to ensure a COVID-19 vaccine is delivered and administered safely and effectively across Australia.”
The Acting President said that the RACGP would be supportive of government efforts to facilitate a strong take up of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The paper notes that vaccine hesitancy and refusal can be major barriers to vaccine uptake, particularly for new pandemic vaccines,” Associate Professor Shenouda said.
“Herd immunity only occurs when a high percentage of the population are vaccinated against a disease to stop the virus spreading from person to person in the community. The authors also spell out that the threshold for achieving COVID-19 herd immunity could be significantly affected by a vaccine refusal rate of more than 10 to 15%.
“To make sure as many people as possible are vaccinated we will need to draw on past experience and deploy measures which have proved successful in boosting vaccination rates.
“This is a new virus but vaccine education and encouraging uptake is not. There are policies governments have used before and we can use them again.
“The RACGP supports current initiatives aimed at encouraging people to get vaccinated and vaccinate their children, such as tying it to family tax benefit payments and restricting access to childcare, nursing homes and other health care facilities. We would support similar measures to boost uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available.
“Ensuring accurate information is available to the general public to encourage uptake is also vital. We need public campaigns that explain why vaccinations are one of the great success stories of modern medicine and why people should get themselves and their children vaccinated.”