The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging the Federal Government to provide patient subsidies for vaccine counselling to support GPs in building vaccine confidence in their communities.
It comes after the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) today updated its advice to the Federal Government, recommending Pfizer as the preferred vaccine for those aged 59 and under. It was previously the preferred vaccine for those aged under 50 years.
At a press conference today, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government fully accepts ATAGI’s advice and the national COVID-19 vaccination program would be adjusted accordingly. Those under 60 who’ve had their first dose of AstraZeneca without serious adverse events are still advised to get their second shot, given the very low risk of adverse reactions for the second dose.
Minister Hunt said the government was also fast-tracking the roll out of Pfizer vaccines to general practice. It comes after the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) changed the storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine, so it can be stored in a normal vaccine fridge at 2-8°C for up to one month.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price said vaccine hesitancy remained a serious concern and requires urgent action.
“We are dealing with increasing vaccine hesitancy right across the country, in cities and rural towns, and it’s a serious concern,” she said.
“The change in ATAGI’s recommendations reinforces the need for patient subsidies for vaccine counselling, so GPs can take the time required to talk to patients who have concerns.
“Last time there was a change, GPs had to deal with cancelled bookings and had to spend much more time talking to patients with concerns.
“GPs are expert in counselling vaccine hesitant patients and building vaccine confidence in the community, this is what we do, but we can’t do it without appropriate support.
“We also really need a national campaign to build vaccine confidence, and this needs to reach every community, including those who are culturally diverse, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and others who are more vulnerable.”
Dr Price urged eligible patients to get vaccinated and reassured those who’d had their first dose of AstraZeneca to go ahead with the second.
“If you’ve had your first dose of AstraZeneca, go ahead and get your second shot – I want to stress that this is still a very safe vaccine for the majority of the population and the risk of adverse effects is extremely small,” she said.
“It has been great to see so many patients coming forward across the country to get their jab. But we know there are many eligible patients holding out. My message to those patients is simple – don’t wait. Don’t wait for another vaccine because you could be waiting a long time and it’s not worth the risk.
“Vaccinated people are far less likely to suffer serious effects if they contract the virus and emerging data suggests they are also less likely to transmit the disease.
“We need as many people to get vaccinated as possible for the protection of our community, so please encourage your family, friends and colleagues to get vaccinated when it’s their turn.
“And for patients who have questions or concerns, please book an appointment with your GP – we are here to help.”
Dr Price also welcomed the roll out of Pfizer via general practice, saying it would have a significant impact, particularly in rural and remote communities.
“General practice is a ready-made mass vaccination program. This will allow for a faster, more efficient and safe rollout. It’s a positive step forward for the protection of our community against COVID-19,” said Dr Price.
“It will vastly improve access to COVID-19 vaccines and protection for communities in rural and remote Australia. There are GPs living and working in communities right across our country, including very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“It’s also great for patients, we know most want to get their COVID-19 jab from their usual GP, like they do for their routine immunisations. General practice provides a safe environment for vaccination and continuity of care for patients – GPs can draw on a patient history and have the necessary training and facilities to manage rare adverse reactions.”
Patients can check their vaccine eligibility and see if their usual general practice is delivering COVID-19 vaccinations in the Government’s Vaccine Eligibility Checker, online here: https://covid-vaccine.healthdirect.gov.au/
The RACGP is providing information and resources on the vaccine to support GPs and patients. The information is available on the RACGP website here.
The TGA made its decision to change the storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine based on review of stability study data submitted by Pfizer, and it follows recent similar approvals in some other countries.