The nation’s peak body for general practitioners has demanded the government “urgently repair” the children’s vaccine rollout, saying supply and delivery issues have left doctors working with “one arm tied behind their back”.
Disability groups, meanwhile, say the failure to prioritise children with a disability, coupled with the current surge in demand, has created significant barriers for those most vulnerable to Covid-19.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia is also reporting that very high demand is putting “pressure on supplies” for its members and that “some pharmacies have reported deliveries being less than they ordered, or deliveries being delayed”.
The federal government has insisted there are no supply or delivery issues, that it is vaccinating at high rates, and that there is enough vaccine in Australia to ensure “every child who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated”.
But Dr Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, told Guardian Australia on Tuesday she “can’t imagine” how children would receive their first dose before the school year began at the current pace. She said GPs could not obtain enough stock to meet demand and had had orders cancelled at the last minute.
“Some practices have been allocated 50 or 100 doses a week when they have around 1,500 children on their books. It’s not hard to do the math and see we can’t keep up with demand,” Price said.
“I have spoken with the health minister this morning to inform him of the challenges facing general practices. I was told any issues will be dealt with accordingly, and that GPs have already delivered 64% of the available childhood vaccinations yesterday.”
The dose allocations have been particularly frustrating for families of children with a disability, often most at risk from Covid, who have not been prioritised, unlike the staged rollout of the adult jab last year.
Children and Young People with Disability Australia chief executive Mary Sayers said she had repeatedly urged the government to put children with a disability at the “front of the queue” for receiving the vaccine.
“We’ve heard really loud and clear from parents that they’re getting pretty frustrated with the hurdles in place when it comes to booking a vaccine for children, particularly for children with a disability,” Sayers told the Guardian.
“There are a whole lot of challenges around GPs and pharmacists having supplies, so that they’re not being able to book an appointment.”
Sayers is also frustrated by the lack of data on the vaccination of children with a disability, and met with the health department to lobby for an improved and streamlined process on Tuesday.
“We’re entering our third year of this pandemic, yet it still doesn’t seem to be getting through that people with a disability need a really targeted and nuanced approach,” she said.
“It’s not because they have a disability, it’s because they face additional barriers in our society for inclusion in vaccination programs.”
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia also warned of significant strain on its members, brought by the children’s rollout and the cut of the minimum booster interval for adults from five months to four.
“There has been very high demand for 5-11[-year-old] vaccinations since the program began this week,” national president, Prof Trent Twomey, told the Guardian.
“This has put pressure on supplies and some pharmacies have reported deliveries being less than they order, or deliveries being delayed.”
Supply is not the only issue facing the children’s vaccine rollout. The Guardian revealed last week that a “technical glitch” erroneously listed two vaccine hubs in New South Wales as available for children’s vaccinations on the state government’s vaccine booking website. The error was only discovered in the days before the children’s vaccine rollout commenced, causing last-minute mass cancellations for parents.
Meanwhile, Price says reports have also emerged of shipments arriving with expired doses.
The rollout involves roughly 8,000 providers, including 6,000 GPs and 2,000 pharmacies, and additional state and Commonwealth clinics and Indigenous health clinics.
On Sunday, the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said: “The fact that there are over 8,000 points of presence for children’s vaccination is designed to mean that there are multiple options over the course of the coming week.
“And with 3m vaccines for 2.3 million, it’s enough to ensure that every child has the opportunity to be vaccinated.
“Every child that wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated, but the critical message is for people to look around and bookings are opening every day. So health.gov.au is the starting place [for] the eligibility checker, but also the states as well.”
A spokesperson for Hunt said the government had delivered over 289,000 doses in the past 24 hours, the highest number since mid-October.
“Australia’s front-line health workers are doing a fantastic job,” he said. “The Minister today confirmed 99% of ordered doses were delivered on time, with enough supply in the system to vaccinate children before school resumes.”
“GP’s have delivered approximately 22,000 of the 35,000 children’s doses delivered to date with a total stock on hand for GP’s of over 433,000 children’s doses and over 835,000 children’s doses across all channels.”
He said the 22,000 doses was 5% of the stock already delivered to GPs. The amount delivered would double again in coming days.