By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
People are being vaccinated against COVID-19 in record numbers, with clinics in the City of Whittlesea and Mitchell and Macedon Ranges shires inundated with calls in the past week.
Victoria has beaten its vaccine record every day since a statewide lockdown was announced on Thursday, with more than 15,000 in the past 24 hours and more than 600,000 nationwide in the past seven days.
But Nexus Primary Health has paused its vaccination clinics in Wallan and Kinglake due to a lack of Federal Government funding.
Despite administering 793 AstraZeneca jabs between late March and early May, enquiries to Nexus Wallan are now being redirected due to what chief executive Amanda Mullins described as ‘inadequate’ Federal Government support.
“We’re a small community health organisation and it was challenging to run it with the commonwealth funds as they are,” she said.
Ms Mullins said there had been a spikes in booking enquiries.
“We’re getting a lot of calls, without a doubt people are stepping up,” she said.
Health experts and politicians have criticised the Federal Government’s vaccine rollout for delays, unclear information, and inconsistent messaging.
In March the Review reported the frustrations voiced by clinics in the Mitchell Shire who said they had received a deluge of demand but no government support.
Patients were making bookings at Nexus through the Federal Government system before vaccines had arrived, while clinics were saddled with a huge administrative cost.
“There’s frustrations with the commonwealth system, that’s nothing new, and we are working with them to make sure we meet the needs of the community,” Ms Mullins said.
Ms Mullins said both Nexus Wallan and Kinglake clinics were ‘pretty much full’ until news broke in mid-April of a small number of blood clot cases – to date 24 cases and one death per 2.1 million doses in Australia – linked to the Astra Zeneca vaccine.
Although the risk of the blood clot disorder thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after an AstraZeneca vaccine is very low, about one in 88,000, vaccine hesitancy has increased among Australians in the past month.
According to new ANU research, while most adult Australians are not opposed to taking vaccines generally, eight in 10 are concerned about possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccines, and almost one third say they are unlikely to get one.
Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell said the Federal Government had not done enough to address increasing vaccine hesitancy.
“There is vaccine hesitancy because of the messages that has been sent out by the government, saying that if you don’t want AstraZeneca you can wait for Pfizer,” he said.
“The fact that [Victorians] are in this position is because of [Scott] Morrison and [Greg] Hunt’s mixed messages. The government should have a proper advertising campaign, the information should be out there.”
Despite this week’s spike in vaccine uptake nationwide, concerns remain about the rollout, as new Department of Health figures suggest even at the current inflated rate, the adult population would not be fully vaccinated until July 2022.
“The budget papers assume we’re going to get 200,000 doses a day, but we’re nowhere near there,” Mr Mitchell said.
In January when the rollout was announced, the Federal Government’s initial target was to reach four million doses by the end of March, but at the time had reached just 600,000. Australia hit its four million milestone last week.
Since the rollout was launched, the government has announced more than a dozen revisions and new targets. The gap between Australia’s vaccinations and current goal is 3.7 million doses.
Northern Health in Epping is one of the largest vaccine clinics in the area and has administered more than 21,500 doses in total.
“We are pleased to be seeing a significant increase in people booking in to receive their COVID-19 vaccine,” infectious diseases director Craig Aboltins told the Review on Monday.
“We have gone from approximately 300 to 400 vaccinations administered per day over the last few weeks to over 800 vaccinations per day late last week.”
As of the end of last week, Kilmore District Health had also saw higher demand, having administered 830 COVID vaccinations, both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, since early March.
“We’re fully booked, and we continue to take bookings. We’ve had around 500 bookings made over the last week or so,” Kilmore District Health chief executive David Naughton said on Thursday.
“It’s absolutely increased since the currently situation and it continues to increase.”
Kilmore District Health has rostered more staff to almost double its vaccinating capacity, while Northern Health has extended its operating hours, and Seymour Health has recently been approved as a vaccination site and is currently planning the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccination clinic as a sub-hub to Goulburn Valley Health.
“We’re working now to flex up to 150 per day, by middle of [this] week,” Mr Naughton said.
“We’re offering vaccinations four days a week, we just encourage people to ring and make the appointment.”
Travelling beyond five kilometres to be vaccinated is permitted under current lockdown restrictions.
To find a clinic, visit www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/vaccination-centres.