THE next phase of the "largest logistics exercise in the history of Australia's public health" will begin on March 22 when the Hunter's GPs step up to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine.
About 280 practices across the Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network were deemed eligible to begin delivering the AstraZeneca vaccine from Monday, March 22, but more practices and also community pharmacies are expected to be brought on board in the following four weeks.
The Primary Health Network's John Baillie said they were expecting significant demand for the vaccine in the initial weeks, but supplies would be limited.
"There are a few challenges in terms of getting ready, firstly, for the vaccine arrival, and then obviously as a country we are waiting for the supply to build up to levels where the rollout can be done with more volume," Mr Baillie said.
IN THE NEWS:
- Jarryd Hayne sexual assault retrial begins over Newcastle allegations
- Lemon Tree Passage man, 24, tasered after allegedly threatening police with knife
- Royals 'worried about Archie's dark skin'
- Australia's international borders should not open until the majority of Australians are vaccinated: Researcher
It is anticipated more than 180,000 people over the age of 70, and 12,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults over the age of 55, will be vaccinated across the region in "Phase 1B" of the rollout. Priority population groups in this phase also include health care workers, younger people with an underlying medical condition or disability, and critical or high-risk workers.
"This is probably a once in a lifetime logistics challenge for Australia," Mr Baillie said. "But it is the GPs who will face the challenge in terms of looking after their existing patients as well as vaccinating for COVID and influenza too. There is no doubt that it is going to be a very busy year for general practice."
One Hunter GP practice had already pulled out of the rollout due to a workforce issue.
"We've had a couple of practices who were deemed eligible for the 22nd of March start date who have come back and said they'd like to push it out a few more weeks so they can get more organised, and that's fair and reasonable," he said.
Mr Baillie encouraged people to visit covid-vaccine.healthdirect.gov.au to use the "eligibility tracker" before contacting their GP.
The different phases would be announced as the rollout progressed, and people should ring their GP to book only once they know they are eligible.
"We don't want our general practices overwhelmed with inquiries," he said. "Work out where you fit and listen to the media to find out when the next phase is announced. The vaccine is free, there is no out-of-pocket expenses."