From Monday 22 March an additional 6.14m Australians will be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccination.

Unlike the almost 250,000 Pfizer vaccinations that have been administered as part of the invitation-only phase 1a, the Australians eligible under phase 1b are able to book vaccine appointments as soon as the phase begins.

GP clinics will join the rollout from Monday, with the government promising a national vaccination booking website to help eligible recipients find their local vaccination clinic and schedule an appointment.

However, the launch of the booking website on Wednesday triggered frustration among GP clinics across the nation, after technical issues saw calls to receptionists surge, with many patients rejected for appointments due to a lack of clarity around vaccine supply.

So, what’s happening with Australia’s vaccine rollout?

How many people have been vaccinated?

Just under 250,000 Australians have been vaccinated as of Thursday under phase 1a. This initial phase – covering 678,000 Australians in total – includes quarantine and border workers, priority frontline healthcare workers, and staff and residents at aged care and disability centres.

While the government has defended the speed of its rollout, it has been plagued by supply issues, with vaccination targets repeatedly pushed back.

Who can be vaccinated as part of the next stage?

Phase 1b, slated to begin from Monday 22 March, covers 6.14m Australians, including anyone aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55, healthcare workers not covered in phase 1a and adults with underlying medical conditions.

Where will phase 1b vaccines be offered?

One thousand local GP clinics will join the vaccine rollout as part of phase 1b, in addition to 100 commonwealth and more state vaccination centres.

Vaccines administered by local doctors will be the AstraZeneca jab, because local GP clinics don’t have sufficiently cold storage facilities for the Pfizer vaccine, which is administered at hospital hubs.

Can I book my vaccine already if I’m eligible for phase 1b?

In theory, yes, but you might struggle to secure an appointment initially.

First, you’ll have to go to the federal health department’s website and complete the vaccine eligibility tracker.

If you’re deemed eligible, you’ll be able to click through to a vaccine booking website, which is designed to show you GPs’ vaccination clinics near your postcode, and direct you to their online booking platform to schedule an appointment.

However, the booking website has been plagued with issues since it launched.

What went wrong with the national booking website?

When it was launched on the government’s HealthDirect website on Wednesday, booking platform links for most clinics were absent, with the website instead instructing eligible recipients to schedule an appointment by calling the phone lines for most individual clinics.

Industry sources have blamed the government for rushing the launch ahead of when they were told to prepare their platforms by, resulting in booking website links not being ready. The government has denied it misled the booking platforms and clinics about this date.

Other GP clinics were frustrated they were even listed on the vaccination booking website, claiming they didn’t have enough information about how many supplies they would get and when they would arrive to be able to offer appointments.

Some participating clinics will receive as few as 50 doses in the first week, and have decided to restrict these doses to their most at risk, existing patients, who they will invite to receive the vaccine, as opposed to opening their practices for vaccine booking.

A handful of clinics claim they have been listed despite only expecting delivery of vaccines in late April.

So when eligible recipients, who had attempted to book online, were instructed to call GP clinics instead, receptionists were inundated with frustrated callers, and because of supply issues, large numbers of phase 1b Australians have been rejected for appointments.

What has the government said about the issues with the booking website?

The government has defended the website launch. The health minister, Greg Hunt, has rejected the allegations from the industry that booking platform providers were told it would launch on Monday, as well claims from individual clinics that they weren’t told about the launch either.

On Thursday, Hunt played down reports of GP clinics frustrated at the website launch, and reacted to the concerns by saying “you would rather be in Australia than anywhere else in the world”.

The federal health department secretary, Prof Brendan Murphy, played down concerns GPs do not have enough vaccines to accept bookings for the beginning of the phase 1b rollout, declaring “we are not in a hurry in Australia” to vaccinate.

The opposition health spokesman, Mark Butler, has lashed the government over the website’s issues, accusing them of a “botched” and “chaotic” system despite having known it would need a national booking service for months.

The Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have also criticised the government for its communication with the industry, and Australians, about their expectations for the booking system and vaccine availability.

Will the website be fixed?

It’s unclear, but some GP clinics and booking platform providers believe they will have systems in place to meet the Monday launch they had originally expected.

Should I call a clinic listed on the website to make a booking in the meantime?

You can, however, medical industry groups and the government have called for patience in the initial days of the phase 1b rollout. Be prepared for the possibility that some clinics which may be listed by the government as offering the vaccine won’t have enough vaccines in the early stages of the rollout to offer appointments yet.

While 1,000 GP clinics will be part of the initial phase 1b rollout, 4,000 clinics are set to offer the vaccine by the end of April.

Will more vaccines be available soon?

Yes. So far, all vaccines administered in Australia have been imported.

From early next week, the first batches of the 50m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be produced by CSL in Melbourne will be distributed across Australia. This is expected to allow a substantial ramping up of Australia’s daily vaccine capacity.

Is the vaccine still free under phase 1b?


What if I’m not eligible for phase 1b?

If you complete the federal health department’s vaccine eligibility tracker and are not eligible for phase 1b, you can register your details to be notified when it’s your turn.

This content first appear on the guardian

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