The great vaccine roll out – did someone get their alphabets messed up?

2nd April 2021, Dr Chee L Khoo

Which phase is more urgent?

Sometimes when you see things occurring that doesn’t make sense, you have to take one step back to understand why things happen the way they happen. We are talking about the Australian great covid-19 vaccine roll out. If you were to pay attention to what is reported in the media over the last few weeks and the fighting amongst the federal and state governments, you might be forgiven to think that there is massive chaos in the whole roll out “program”. You are probably not that far off. It is mayhem out there from where we, as GPs, are sitting.

Let me take you to the whole vaccine roll out program (if indeed you can call it that) from the start. We were quick on the mark in securing 10 million Pfizer and 53.8 million AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccines last year for the roll out. Why the funny number of 53.8 million AZ vaccines? 3.8 million was supposed to come from Europe which will get here before the CSL plant in Melbourne can come online with local production which they just did on the 22nd March 2021. All the 10 million Pfizer was supposed to come from Europe. The local production of the AZ vaccines was supposed to go to the launch of Phase 2.

Now there are about 700,000 people estimated to be in Phase 1A and a little over 6 million in Phase 1B. You will all agree that our frontline workers including hotel quarantine workers and emergency workers as well nursing home residents urgently need to be protected. Phase 1B then be vaccinated after Phase 1A is finished or at least almost finished.

Well, that was Plan A of the strategy. Pfizer delivered about 1 million out of their 10 million doses promised while AZ only delivered about a million doses and we don’t expect much more will arrive any time soon. This really leave the Phase 1A really short. Only 3-4 out 10 people in Phase 1A has been vaccinated which really leave many of our frontline workers very exposed. This makes rolling out Phase 1B difficult when Phase 1A is still very short.

Now that we are producing our own AZ vaccines, which group should we urgently give the vaccines to? It’s not rocket science, is it? Which group is more urgent – 1A or 1B? You would urgently work towards back filling Phase 1A and deal with Phase 1B after, right?

No, the government rolled out Phase 1B last week. What? Why? Some general practices are now vaccinating patients in the Phase 1B group while many hospital workers remain frustrated waiting for their vaccines. To make matters worse, they are providing general practices with little bits and pieces of vaccines. Some practices are getting 50 doses while other smaller practices are getting 100-200 doses. More is supposed to come weekly once the first lot arrives.

Some of my colleagues received the first 50-100 doses but are unable to order anymore and are not sure when the next lot will arrive. Most general practices have a massive task of cancelling or postponing vaccine appointments causing mayhem amongst staff and patients. How are we supposed to plan our workflow when we don’t know when and how many doses are being supplied.

One of my patients asked who is actually in charge of the roll out. Do we even have anyone in charge?