The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed new Medicare patient rebates which will support GPs to provide counselling to COVID-19 vaccine hesitant patients.
The new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item supports GPs to build vaccine confidence by giving them the time they need to talk through any concerns their patients might have, and help them make an informed decision about the benefits of having their vaccine jab.
It comes after the Federal Government changed the national COVID-19 vaccine rollout in line with updated advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). ATAGI is now recommending Pfizer as the preferred vaccine for those aged 59 and under.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price said the new MBS item could not come soon enough.
“We welcome the Federal Government heeding the RACGP’s calls and introducing this new Medicare item – we need this additional support more than ever,” she said.
“We are dealing with increasing vaccine hesitancy right across the country. I’m seeing it in my own practice in Melbourne, almost all my patients have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines.
“The change in ATAGI’s recommendations reinforces the need for this counselling item – last time there was a change, GPs saw cancelled bookings and had to spend much more time talking to patients, and we are now seeing this again.
“With this new Medicare item, GPs like me can do what we do best – we can take the time required to listen to patients’ concerns, answer questions and support them in making an informed decision.
“Patients know and trust their GP, and we are perfectly positioned to counsel patients and build vaccine confidence in the community.
“General practice is doing the heavy lifting to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible – we need all the support we can get. This new Medicare item will be crucial to boosting our vaccination rates.”
Dr Price warned patients against COVID-19 complacency.
“What I am telling my patients is that this pandemic is not over and that there is no room for complacency,” she said.
“The outbreak in Victoria is a stark reminder of what this virus is capable of and how quickly it can spread.
“To protect the community and for more easing of restrictions, including travel, we need as many people to get vaccinated as possible right away. Every eligible person has a role to play in combating this pandemic and keeping people safe from harm.
“Until we have vaccinated a large portion of the adult population, we are vulnerable to more outbreaks occurring and lives being lost.”
The RACGP President also praised the work of general practices delivering vaccinations.
“My message to all participating general practices who may have experienced difficulties in obtaining adequate vaccine supply or been challenged by patients cancelling their appointments is simple – let’s stay the course,” she said.
“I am proud of all GPs, nurses, receptionists and administrative staff across Australia delivering these vaccinations.
“We have already administered more than half of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccinations and that is on top of delivering the annual influenza vaccine, routine childhood vaccinations and continuing to deliver routine care for our patients.
“Well done to all of you, and thank you for what you continue to do for your communities under the most challenging of times.
“Please keep up the good work and utilise this new Medicare item to build vaccine confidence, support your patients, and get more jabs in arms.”