Despite the national rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in late February, the profession is still waiting for important details. Doctors, like their patients, are being urged to exercise patience.
The COVID-19 vaccination rollout is somewhat off and running – not winning any running races though.
At time of writing, 1a is going well in hospitals, aged care is creeping along and we’re days away from launching group 1b in GP surgeries. But rather than launching with a bang, it seems it will be more of a slow trickle.
Understandably, there is high anxiety amongst medical practitioners about the rollout, particularly as the initial rollout of doses appears to be very limited.
The drip-feed of information has been painful for everyone. We often hear from health officials that ‘there is much learning’ to be done, which I suspect is code for ‘we are flying by the seat of our pants’.
Instead of a well-developed plan, at times it feels like Government is making it up as it goes along. There is likely some truth to that cynical view – we are, after all, facing a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
Against the backdrop of the vaccine rollout for patients is the vaccination of healthcare workers. There has been much angst in the profession about when, where and how doctors will receive a vaccine depending on which priority group they are in and what their risk level is in terms of exposure.
A significant number of members have reached out to the AMA about the prioritisation of healthcare workers.
We have successfully advocated for medical students to be considered as healthcare workers when on clinical placements, and for the rotations of doctors-in-training to be taken into consideration.
All doctors are in group 1a or 1b.
With more vaccine doses coming into the country and being produced locally, we anticipate there will actually be a fair degree of overlap of 1a/1b and all doctors should receive their first dose soon.
We are working with NSW health to ensure healthcare workers can access either their GP or hospital hubs for their vaccine. Increasing real-world evidence as to the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine is reassuring.
We acknowledge the significant role healthcare workers play in continuing to provide care to patients in this pandemic. Vaccinating our workforce is essential to making sure we can keep being there for our patients.
As doctors, it’s critical we follow the evidence and base decisions on the current risk. The fastest way for all of us to return to pre-COVID activity is get as many Australians vaccinated as possible to provide as much protection as we can to the population. The primary goal of our current vaccination program, as we understand it, is to reduce the likelihood of severe disease and death when COVID inevitably reaches our shores again.
It’s also important to consider the level of vaccine hesitancy that exists in the general population. If we are going to succeed in preventing people from going to hospital and dying from COVID, then it’s important we don’t inadvertently undermine the public’s confidence in any of the TGA-approved vaccines.
Given these factors and the number of unknowns about the long-term effectiveness of any of the vaccines, we are recommending healthcare workers to follow the advice provided by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation on priority population groups.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how to adapt to an ever-evolving situation. It’s also a lesson I’m learning as President of AMA (NSW) – particularly when writing this column which has been re-written three times before deadline to keep up with all the new developments.
Going forward, we will endeavour to keep members as up-to-date as possible.