Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt provides a COVID-19 update. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sarah Matray-
Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt provides a COVID-19 update. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sarah Matray-

Doctors in revolt over covid jab costs

Doctors in revolt over COVID-19 vaccine payments and dose numbers have been told the situation will "settle down" as Australia ramps up its rollout.

GPs have complained low payments and smaller-than-expected dose numbers will not cover their costs as they administer the vaccine.

A group of GPs has threatened to withdraw from the vaccination rollout, some claiming they have received just 50 doses per week despite requesting 200 per day.

But Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Karen Price said the COVID-19 vaccine was particularly "complicated" given it was administered in two doses and required staff training.

She said many clinics planned their finances around receiving a high volume of doses but hoped the situation would "settle down" as the rollout progressed.

"What has happened here is that we have got a low volume to start with," she told Today.

"This is really a way of testing procedures, making sure everything will go along OK.

"So given it is the first week of the rollout and CSL haven't got up to full speed ahead yet, I think it will settle down as we get going."

EARLIER: 

Australia will enlist the help of more than 1,000 GP clinics in its bid to keep its vaccine rollout on schedule.

Local doctors will be brought in for phase 1b of the rollout, which targets older people and those with certain underlying conditions, from March 22.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the change would "ensure an efficient and equitable distribution of vaccines across the country".

Until now, the vaccines had only been administered at hospitals and aged care centres.

Overall, more than 4,500 accredited general practices will participate in Phase 1b of Australia's COVID-19 vaccine rollout which he says is one of the greatest logistic challenges in the nation's history.

"More than 1,000 general practices will commence from the week of March 22, with a rapid scale-up over the following four weeks. This will ensure an efficient and equitable distribution of vaccines across the country," Mr Hunt said.

"Phase 1b of the rollout includes vulnerable populations, such as older people and people with certain underlying conditions."

The strategy to rapidly deliver vaccine inoculations includes a collaboration between the Australian Medical Association (AMA), The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM).

The rollout start dates are to be staggered with dosage allocation, to be dependent on vaccine availability. AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid said general practitioners (GPSs) have a proven track record with flu vaccinations of older Australians and those living with chronic disease who would make up the majority of the Phase 1B rollout.

"It is very pleasing to see the majority of GPs putting up their hands to participate in this critical national program," Dr Khorshid said.

TWO CASES CONFIRMED IN ACT

The highly contagious South African COVID strain has spread to the ACT as Australia faces moves from Europe to block vaccine supplies.

Health authorities have confirmed the ACT's two active COVID-19 cases have the South African strain of the virus. The two travellers arrived on a repatriation flight from Singapore on Monday.

They recorded weak positive test results while in quarantine but were later confirmed as active cases. A man aged in his 40s and another man aged under 20 contracted the South African variant, ACT Health confirmed.

Meanwhile, the federal government remains well behind its initial COVID-19 vaccination targets nearly a fortnight into its rollout.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in January he "anticipated optimistically" 80,000 Australians would be vaccinated every week at the beginning of the rollout, before the effort was "scaled up".

But almost two weeks after the first vaccine was administered, only 71,867 Australians have been immunised, including 20,814 residents across 241 aged care facilities.

Health Minister Greg Hunt insisted mid-February the government remained "on track … for all the milestones we've set", including a target to reach four million vaccinations by early April.

In a further setback to Australia's vaccination program, Italy has blocked 250,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine from being flown down under as the global tug of war over access to the jabs heats up.

And France is threatening to block COVID-19 vaccines to Australia too, with French health minister Olivier Véran saying he "understood" the Italian government's decision and indicated that France "could do the same".

"Believe me, the more doses I have, the happier I am as a health minister," Mr Véran said, according to The Australian.

Vaccines are being rolled out to front line workers around the world. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian Currie
Vaccines are being rolled out to front line workers around the world. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian Currie

He added that France and the rest of the EU are determined to have their contacts with drug makers enforced.

The decision to stop the AstraZeneca roll out down under was an escalation in the competition for vaccines, one that has become ever more frantic as Europe confronts the early signs of a possible new wave of infections driven by new coronavirus variants.

The prospect of shipping hundreds of thousands of doses from Italy, where infections are on a steep ascent, to Australia, which is recording a handful of daily cases, evidently proved unpalatable to Italy's new prime minister, Mario Draghi, the New York Times reported.

Italy took action under new European Union rules passed after AstraZeneca cut projected deliveries. They allow any member country to stop exports of vaccines to nations outside the bloc.

Australia has reacted calmly, the Times said, with officials asking the European Commission to review the decision while insisting that the blocked delivery would not have a major impact.

It is the first use of an export control system brought in by the EU to ensure sure big pharma companies would respect their contracts.

The move, affecting only a small number of vaccines, underscores a growing frustration within the 27-nation bloc about the slow rollout of its vaccine drive and the shortfall of promised vaccine deliveries, especially by Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca.

The ban came at the behest of Italy, and the EU did not raise objections to the tougher line Rome has adopted in dealing with vaccine shortages in the bloc since a new government led by Mario Draghi came into power Feb 13.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it had anticipated veto problems could arise in shipments from Europe, adding that Australia's inoculation schedule would continue as planned.

"They are in an unbridled crisis situation. That is not the situation in Australia," Mr Morrison said. "But, nevertheless, we have been able to secure our supplies, and additional supplies for importation, both with Pfizer and AstraZeneca, which means we can continue the rollout of our program."

He said Australia was also producing vaccines domestically, giving it control over its vaccination program.

Italy's objections centred both on the general shortage of supplies in the EU and on "the delays in the supply of vaccines by AstraZeneca to the EU and Italy," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

It said it also intervened because of the size of the shipment, more than 250,700 doses, that would go to Australia, which it did not consider a vulnerable nation.

Originally published as Major change to nation's vaccine rollout



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