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RACGP President and Health Minister unveil GPs’ COVID vaccine role

GPs will be at the heart of one of the largest vaccination efforts in Australian history, Dr Karen Price and Greg Hunt confirmed.

RACGP President Dr Karen Price
RACGP President Dr Karen Price told Australians GPs stand ‘ready, willing and able to help’ with the COVID vaccine rollout.

General practice clinics will form a major and ongoing part of the national coronavirus vaccine rollout from phase 1b onwards, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed.

Minister Hunt made the declaration at a joint press conference with RACGP President Dr Karen Price in Canberra on Tuesday, where it was also revealed that GPs will be administering the AstraZeneca/Oxford University candidate, pending approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

‘Next week we’ll be inviting all Australian general practices to participate if they wish,’ Minister Hunt said.

‘That will involve making sure that they’re able to participate in the Australian Immunisation Register [AIR] and record all vaccinations, [and that they are able] to undertake the appropriate training.

‘There’s more to be done. But when we compare the international [situation] with the Australian outcomes, we see that our doctors and our nurses have not only kept us safe, they have delivered an outcome that is in so many ways the envy of just about all of the rest of the world.

‘We owe, Karen, you and your fellow practitioners a deep debt of gratitude.’

In addressing the nation, Dr Price acknowledged the support of the Government and expressed confidence in Australia’s vaccine candidates, while reaffirming that general practice is ‘ideally placed’ to help facilitate the rollout all over the country.

‘We are about to roll out the largest vaccination program in recent history. Immunisation has made an enormous contribution to global health … and this COVID vaccine [rollout] is vast,’ she said.

‘It is a significant major national effort which requires all of us to cooperate … [and] the RACGP is working constructively with the Government to ensure a confident vaccine rollout.

‘The year 2021 is the year of vaccination, and GPs stand ready, willing and able to help.’

Aside from general practice receiving more clarity in relation to its expected involvement in the rollout, it has also been revealed that GPs working at coronavirus respiratory clinics will be immunised during phase 1a of the Federal Government’s vaccine roadmap.

It was previously thought that all GPs would be vaccinated along with other frontline healthcare workers during phase 1b of the rollout, but the Department of Health has since clarified GPs’ priority status.

‘This is important for the protection of GPs on the frontline working in respiratory clinics, and those caring for communities across the country,’ Dr Price said.

‘The vaccine rollout is a complicated and logistically challenging task. Thankfully Australia is in a good place to get the job done, and do it well.

‘We have very low rates of the virus in Australia compared to other countries, and we have a world class general practice system that’s perfectly positioned to help.’

According to Minister Hunt, pharmacies will also administer vaccines during phase 2 of the rollout, despite ongoing safety concerns, in an effort to reach every Australian who would like a vaccine by October this year.

‘We actually have a network which produced 17 million [flu] vaccinations last year – I think that’s one of the things which is sometimes not realised,’ Minister Hunt said.

‘So we can do this because we did it last year. And we did it the year before.’

The Government will also rely on hospitals, state- and Commonwealth-run vaccination clinics, and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations to help facilitate the mass rollout, but Dr Price reiterated that general practice remains ‘one of the safest places’ for patients to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

‘General practice is well positioned to support the rollout – there are GPs living and working in communities right across our country; in cities, rural towns and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,’ she said.

‘GPs draw on a patient history and are equipped with the necessary medical training and facilities to manage any rare adverse reactions.

‘There are many challenges ahead, including the need to build community confidence in the new vaccines through evidence-based information campaigns that address the community’s specific concerns and deal with misinformation and myths.

‘These challenges also underpin why general practice will be so crucial in the rollout. GPs are perfectly placed to increase vaccine confidence and uptake. We are connected to our communities, we know our patients and they trust us.

‘This is especially true for GPs who engage with culturally and linguistically diverse communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The GPs who live and work in these communities will know how to talk to their patients in a culturally appropriate way, and discuss any concerns patients may have.’

Minister Hunt concluded the joint press conference by urging all Australian to listen to the advice of Australian medical experts advising the Government, and made special mention of the ongoing contribution GPs have made, and will make, as Australia attempts to make its way out of the pandemic.

‘They’ll have a huge role to play going forwards in protecting Australians,’ he said.

‘We’re in the best hands in the world, with some of the best results in the world, and we’ll continue to keep Australians safe in 2021.’

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