Since the Covid vaccine rollout began, Dr Shea Wilcox and his team have been ready to run a de facto mass vaccination hub from their general practitioner’s clinic in Brunswick East, Melbourne.
With just a single nurse, the team could have delivered 2,100 doses a week. Rostering on more nurses would have increased capacity significantly.
Their best-laid plans, however, unravelled in early April, when a pitiful supply of 50 doses a week began arriving in fortnightly deliveries.
“We get our vaccines and we give them all within one to two days, then we wait another two weeks until we get more,” Wilcox tells Guardian Australia.
The Inner North Medical Clinic has repeatedly asked the federal government to increase its supply levels, only to be told they would not be changing for the foreseeable future.
So when the government signalled on Monday that it would place greater reliance on new and expanded state and territory mass vaccination clinics, Wilcox was frustrated.
The distribution mechanism was not the problem, he said. The problem was one of supply.
“It’s not a function of not having enough trained staff to stick a jab in someone, it’s not having enough doses at our clinic,” he said.
“GPs give immunisations all day, all week, we know how to give immunisations, we’ve got well-established booking and reception, admin and follow-up. It’s very frustrating.”
Late Monday, the government overhauled its rollout strategy. Part of that overhaul involves activating more state and territory-operated mass vaccination sites, as vaccine supplies increase.
Prior to the meeting, Morrison said mass vaccination hubs for under-50s would be better suited for an anticipated “12-week sprint” in the lead-up to Christmas once supplies of the Pfizer and Novavax vaccine became available.
“You asked about mass vaccination hubs – that will be dependent very much on the stock of Pfizer and Novavax that we’re expecting, at this stage, contracted to be made available in the fourth quarter of this year,” Morrison said. “That is where we’re predominantly talking about those under 50 … that age group that would be more suited to that type of vaccination process.”
Monday’s meeting of the national cabinet did agree that general practice would continue to be the “primary model of rolling out vaccinations for Australians over 50 years of age”. But it said the states and territories would seek to “supplement [the] rollout through expanded state vaccination centres”.
The supply issues are expected to lessen as more AstraZeneca batches are released. CSL, which is manufacturing the vaccine locally, is understood to be producing about 1m a week on average.
The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, believes there is now sufficient supply to “really crank on with it” and has called for vaccination hubs to be set up for all age groups using current available supplies.
Wilcox, meanwhile, is being told not to expect any increase to supply. “We’ve asked the vaccine control centre to up our vaccine dosage a few times, and they have told us it’s locked at 50 per week … and there’s no way to change from that,” he said.