17 May 2021
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Is this a Covid-19 vaccine f-up?

Peter Switzer
1 May 2021

There is a vaccination “F-up” that needs to be fixed ASAP and I hope it’s purely a typical public service arse-covering screw up that the Health Minister Greg Hunt can fix up. Health isn’t my beat, and I rate Greg Hunt but if he ignores this “F-up” it not only will have health implications, it could have economic implications and then stock market implications. And this is my beat!

Remember the quicker our population is properly vaccinated, the faster our international borders will open and businesses negatively affected will start to rebound.

This vaccination “F-up” was revealed to me by my doctor, Theo Aroney, who’s arguably the best GP I’ve ever had (and I’ve had some good’uns). Theo is definitely the most successful entrepreneurial doctor I’ve come across.

His practice is in Sydney’s Bondi Junction and what you’re about to read would be something that you’d expect out of the crazy inefficiencies of Stalinist USSR.

I’ll let Dr Aroney tell his story and will only make changes if his grammar and syntax aren’t on par with his first class doctoring. And I’ve added some dramatic but apt headings to underline the importance of his letter. So here goes:


Dear Peter,

Below is a series of email communications with well-placed officials as well as my views of the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, which really is a shambles.

First communication to Dr Michael Moore

“I’m writing to you requesting advice regarding the inadequate provision of COVID vaccinations to my practice.

My medical centre has only been allocated 50 doses per week, which is grossly inadequate considering that we’re seeing approximately 3,000 patients per week.

Essentially, I have written to the Sydney local Public Health Network (PHN). The CEO ‘Dr Michael Moore’ agrees with everything I have stated, however he does not have the authority to increase our allocation. This is the responsibility of the Commonwealth:

Dr Michael Moore’s response

PHNs have not and never were given the responsibility, and privilege, to distribute COVID vaccines to local practices.  The Central and Eastern Sydney (CESPHN) unfortunately has no direct control over vaccine allocation to individual practices in the CESPHN region. The distribution process and allocation numbers are driven centrally by the Commonwealth Department of Health and we have no direct say in the process or in the allocation of vaccines.

Communication with Dave Sharma MP

My local member Dave Sharma has provided me the standard 4 line rehash response “as greater number of vaccines become available, these will then flow onto individual practices.” His office was unable to give a timeline.

Emails to Minister Greg Hunt

I have twice emailed the Health Minister about this important matter, without response so I’m not sure how to proceed from here.

Peter, it’s not a vaccine problem but a distribution f-up!

In summary:

1. There is a pandemic of historical proportions that has shut planet Earth!

2. The Commonwealth Department of Health has been entrusted with the huge responsibility of ensuring that the population of Australia is COVID vaccinated.

3. The process is currently confusing, disorganised and convoluted. This is reducing people's confidence.

4. The Commonwealth has indicated that there is a vaccine shortage, where in fact the entire problem is with the DISTRIBUTION process.

The Commonwealth has been distributing large numbers of COVID vaccines to small medical practices, with small patient bases, say 400 doses per week, and tiny amounts to large medical practices, with large patient bases. I’m getting 50 doses per week!

Hence, these small practices have so much COVID vaccines that they’re unable to get rid of it!

Instead of correcting this problem, the government has decided to extend the roll out to include the less vulnerable patients aged 50 to 69 years of age.

Clearly, supply isn’t the issue. The issue is the failure in distribution of the vaccine.

As you know, I own a large medical centre in the heart of Bondi Junction. We have 23 doctors working here and we’re open 7 days a week. We’re a registered Travel Vaccination/Yellow Fever clinic that stores all our vaccines onsite in 3 large vaccination fridges, each with its own back-up generator battery to cover the event of power failure. Furthermore, we immunise and document thousands of patients a year for flu vaccinations and childhood immunisations. This information was all documented in my original application.

This “F-up” could kill people

Our vulnerable Priority 1b patients (those aged over 70, as well as those with chronic illness) are disadvantaged.

We’re unable to advertise the availability that we have to our huge patient base, as we’ve only been allocated an average of 7 vaccines a day.

GPs are well-positioned to convince their patients to be COVID vaccinated. Normally if a Priority 1b patient presents to the medical centre for an unrelated matter, the GP could explain the importance of a COVID vaccination and address concerns such as potential side effects. Once a patient consents, we’d then send them to the procedure room to be vaccinated. Simple as that. No different to the current flu vaccination system.

We’re aware of patient's medical history, medications, and we are better positioned to monitor their side effects/follow up vaccinations more effectively.

With the current system, we’re supposed to tell the patients to go and find a different medical practice or COVID respiratory clinic (where we normally send our infected patients) to receive their vaccines. What we are effectively saying is: “Please find another medical facility to be immunised, one which you’re unfamiliar with and that has no knowledge of your past medical history/medications/allergies”.

This failure with the DISTRIBUTION process is occurring across Australia. Please note Public health CEO Dr Michael Moore’s response to my concerns: "I appreciate your frustration with the minimal vaccine allocation going to your practice.  Unfortunately this is a recurring issue with most of the larger practices in our region.  Please be assured that we at CESPHN are doing all we can to get these vaccine allocations increased: we are very frustrated by this as well and have been lobbying hard to get this changed.” 

I don’t like turning away my patients

I believe that I have a duty of care to my patients, as well as to the greater community. I do not enjoy turning my patients away when they request to be COVID vaccinated. 

The people responsible for navigating this vaccination process for the whole population during this historical worldwide pandemic, need to manage this process in an organised and methodical way. Clearly, the current system isn’t optimal. It’s currently patchy, disorganised and doesn’t inspire patient confidence.

My simple belief is that the DISTRIBUTION/allocation of COVID vaccines needs to be proportional to the size (patient base) of the medical practice i.e. larger medical practices receive larger portions and smaller practices receive smaller portions. 

Once the distribution is extended to involve the less vulnerable population aged 50 to 69 years of age, the supply issue for our Priority 1b patients will be worse. 

Clearly you can see I’m frustrated. What do you suggest would be my next step ?

Regards,

Theo
Dr Theo Aroney
MBBS, FRACGP
General Practitioner.

Back to me, Peter Switzer

Greg Hunt has to kick someone’s butt and make sure the distribution process passes the often-spoken about “pub test”. Right now I suspect whoever came up with this dumb distribution process must have dreamed it up after spending too much time at the pub!

Over to you, Greg.

PS: In all my 35 years of public commentary in major newspapers, radio and TV outlets I’ve never been invited to The Lodge by a PM for a media schmoozing and I suspect it’s because I don’t play favourites with either side of politics. The Morrison Government has got a lot right — it’s economic game plan for the Coronavirus was a ripper — but this vaccine distribution process won’t look good come election time.

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