The West Australian exclusive

Pfizer COVID vaccine in WA: First day of GP rollout marred by shortages

Headshot of Josh Zimmerman
Josh ZimmermanThe West Australian
Nurses prepare Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines.
Camera IconNurses prepare Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines. Credit: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

The first day of the much-vaunted expansion of Pfizer jabs to GP clinics has been marred by confusion with Perth doctors approved for the scheme still waiting for vaccine deliveries and forced to turn scores of patients away.

Around 500 GP practices around Australia were supposed to begin administering Pfizer yesterday but a supply crunch means many are still waiting on stock.

In the latest setback to the faltering vaccination drive, others remain in the dark about when they can expect their first Pfizer vials to arrive — or how much exactly is on the way.

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The High Wycombe Respiratory Clinic — one of four Commonwealth-funded clinics set up specifically to deliver COVID vaccines in Perth — is not expecting its first Pfizer to arrive until Friday.

GP and clinical lead Praveen Kallimath said he was expecting only 240 doses weekly, less than half of what could be administered given demand, and that he could not take any bookings until the vaccine was actually on site.

“We have been running as a respiratory clinic all year for AstraZeneca but for some unknown reason were not given preference for Pfizer,” Dr Kallimath said.

He also expressed frustration at GPs not being given prior warning of major changes to vaccination policy before they were announced in the media.

“On the day the ATAGI advice changed (to recommend AstraZeneca only for over 60s) I had already given the jab to five or six people in their 50s that morning,” Dr Kallimath said.

“I only found out when the receptionist came in to say it was now only for people aged 60 plus.”

A health worker displays a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Camera IconA health worker displays a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Christophe Archambault/AP

Fellow GP Alan Leeb, from the Illawarra Medical Centre in Ballajura, said he was not expecting his first delivery of Pfizer — 300 doses — until next Monday.

“I think all of us (GPs) have been so burnt by the process we will wait until we have the vaccine in the fridge before taking bookings,” Dr Leeb said.

While demand for AstraZeneca had dwindled in recent weeks, Dr Leeb said people were clamouring for Pfizer and his practice could “easily do 500 a week” if supply was available.

The Aubin Grove Medical Centre was among the few clinics with Pfizer on hand ahead of yesterday’s launch, with GP Andrew Png saying he had received his first shipment last week and was now expecting 300 doses a fortnight.

He said the practice already had a waiting list that ran 400 patients deep despite only advertising Pfizer availability for a few days.

“As it becomes more available we may not have as much pressure but at this stage there appears to be a lot of pent up demand.”

Dr Png said “confused messaging” — including the variety of stances taken by the leaders of individual States — had damaged the public perception of AstraZeneca

“We have definitely noticed people not turning up to appointments and as a result of that it has been harder to not waste vaccine,” he said, adding it was also becoming increasingly common to have to turn away over 60s demanding Pfizer.

Ramya Raman, deputy chair of the WA branch of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said GPs were the backbone of the primary health care system and should have been more involved in the vaccine rollout from the start.

“Communication wise we certainly would have appreciated much more initial involvement which would have made it a lot easier to keep our patients informed about what has happening,” Dr Raman said.

“Vaccine confidence is the key and over the last few weeks there have been very mixed messages from various sources, including the government.”

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