HEALTH services in Warrnambool have been sent into a scramble under a revision to jabs against the deadly coronavirus from the government's vaccine advisory body on Thursday.
It's recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine only be given to people aged 60-plus, despite a hold on initial Pfizer jab bookings in Victoria while there is a vaccine shortage.
South West Healthcare will no longer take walk-in bookings for either vaccine, with chief executive Craig Fraser saying the focus will be on second dose appointments for the foreseeable future.
The SWH-run jab centre, based at the Bayside City Plaza on Merri Street, is the only site in Warrnambool able to offer the public Pfizer vaccines.
"We have seen a lot of interest but at this time we have no first dose Pfizer vaccines available in our region," Mr Fraser said.
"There's no confirmation of when we can again be offering first doses.
"We'd like to see more doses but we've got to be patient and wait for it to become available.
"We won't be offering any new bookings until we've been able to vaccinate people with their second dose - and they will be contacted by us."
The next week of jabs has been fully booked.
"This week we've done 500 first dose Pfizers and 500 second dose Pfizers, and approximately 600 second dose AstraZeneca vaccines," Mr Fraser continued.
"Next week we will be hoping to secure first doses of AstraZeneca for the 60-plus age group.
"We have 500 second-dose Pfizer vaccines booked in and 250 second-dose AstraZeneca vaccines next week.
"Beyond that we're not sure what happens. As it becomes more clear we will advertise that."
Anyone aged 50 to 59 who has received their first dose of AstraZeneca will only be offered AstraZeneca as their second dose.
"You won't be offered Pfizer if you have had your first dose of AstraZeneca," Mr Fraser said.
"The second dose is proven to have a lot less risk of clotting than the first dose.
"I've had my second dose of AstraZeneca today and I think it's the right thing to do."
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Over 80 per cent of SWH's workforce has received a first COVID19 vaccination dose, with around 80 per cent of that group having already received a second dose.
The Great South Coast Respiratory vaccination clinic in Fairy Street only offers the AstraZeneca vaccine and has been working to notify those booked in who will be affected by the changes following the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation revisions.
"We have a few bookings available for AstraZeneca first and second doses," clinic project coordinator Jessica Haberfield said.
"It definitely is important for us to get that Pfizer allocation and we're waiting on advice from the federal government when we can receive that."
A COVID-19 vaccination clinic will be opened in Mortlake through the Warrnambool Medical Clinic offering AstraZeneca to the community.
The likely change in advice will put further pressure on Australia's supply of Pfizer vaccines, the only other vaccine against COVID-19 currently approved and available in Australia. Pfizer must be imported from overseas, and while supply is expected to increase starting next month, large amounts of the vaccine are not expected until at least September.
SWH's limited supplies of Pfizer have booked out within an hour or two of being advertised over the last few weeks.
Residents have expressed their frustrations around not being able to access the vaccine.
"I sympathise with them and realise how quickly bookings go and we ask people to hang in there and stick at it," Mr Fraser said.
"It's a good sign that people in the south-west want to be vaccinated."
This comes as COVID test numbers in Warrnambool have dipped in line with the state this past week.
However SWH saw an increase in testing overall in response to the latest Victorian COVID-19 outbreak, with 2280 symptomatic people tested in the last eight weeks.
Victoria's health department figures show a statewide revival to 35,252 tests on Friday after recording 17,000 on Wednesday.
Anyone with the slightest cold, flu or hayfever-like symtoms are urged to book a COVID-19 test. There remain 54 active COVID-19 cases in Victoria, as of Friday.
Face masks must be work at all times indoors in regional Victoria, excepting in your own home, and when physical distancing is not possible outdoors.
The Victorian government launched a campaign on Thursday calling on Victorians to check-in with QR codes everywhere and every time they enter a workplace or business - even for less than 15 minutes. Checking in via the Services Victoria app is designed to best aid contact tracers in addressing outbreaks and restrictions.
Q&A with Victorian acting premier, testing commander
A press conference with Victorian acting premier James Merlino and health authorities revealed frustrations with the vaccine rollout.
On Friday they said new advice that the AstraZeneca jab now only be given to people aged 60-plus, despite a hold on initial Pfizer jab bookings in Victoria while there is a vaccine shortage, further disrupted the already flawed rollout.
Q: Is this decision (to offer Pfizer to under 60s) by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and the Commonwealth going have a big impact on our rollout? Do we have enough supply of Pfizer to cope with the change?
A: Victorian testing commander Jeroen Weimar - "Absolutely. It will have a significant impact on the speed with which we can roll out with the vaccine that is available.
With more people being guided towards Pfizer, the 50-59-year-old age group, there is more competition for a limited supply of Pfizer. That presents problems and particularly for us in Victoria, where we are keen to get vaccinated; that gives us a constraint.
It is frustrating when you're running the state system that we now have more people who are going to switch over to Pfizer and we have so little Pfizer available.
When we see more Pfizer coming through, we can recalibrate the program; we can step across and make this Pfizer switch easily in Victoria. We need the vaccine in order to do that."
Q: What do you say to people who are eligible for AstraZeneca who, as a result of yesterday's decision, are now deciding that they will hold out for Pfizer even if that might be four or five months away for them?
A: "Firstly, if you have any doubts about the vaccine options available to you, please speak to your GP, your GP can give you the best advice about what is right for you and your circumstances.
At a general level and as a non-clinician, we are in the middle of winter. We are coming to the end of an outbreak here in Victoria and we are seeing rumblings in New South Wales. We have a long way to go at a cold time of year.
I would encourage anybody who is eligible to get vaccinated, get vaccinated.
I would look at the ATAGI guidelines and see if it is safe to get vaccinated with AstraZeneca for those over 60.
For those who have had a first dose of AstraZeneca, the advice is clear from ATAGI: please get your second dose.Jeroen Weimar
From a state system point of view, we will make that all available.
Every single dose we get we will put into peoples' arms and what is most important is the momentum we have built up for Victorians to get vaccinated doesn't slow down."
Q: What's the advice around second doses?
A: "We still have 8,500 second dose appointments for Pfizer this week.
I would like those to be used by the people who are ready to get their second dose.
We are keen to make sure people on the vaccination journey complete it.
If you are due for your second dose of Pfizer, book it in because we have those appointments available.
I am holding the vaccine and the spaces to do that.
Those for the second AstraZeneca doses, the vaccine is there and we have the capacity to do that."
Q: The Commonwealth has indicated it is confident all Aussies will be given at least one shot by the end of the year. Do you think that is achievable in Victoria?
A: "Absolutely. We are running the largest vaccination program anywhere in Australia.
The state system is running at 170,000 capacity a week at the moment without stretching itself too far. We could step that up further. It is all about vaccine supply and that is a predicament.
What we are being led to believe is there will be more supply available in the last quarter of the year.
That will make it a sprint towards the end of the year.
I suggested we would like to bring as much of that forward as we can.
I would like to get people vaccinated now in winter when we're more vulnerable to COVID.
There is no reason to delay but we need the vaccine to come through to do that."
Q: If I am eligible for Pfizer, when I could go and get it, realistically? The first dose?
A: "There are first dose appointments available in the coming weeks for Pfizer."
Q: Not next week?
A: "Not next week. Next week we have reserved those 27,000 slots for second dose appointments coming up.
There are first dose appointments available in the weeks further out. With 49 clinics, there is a fair geographic spread of opportunities.
If you are eligible for Pfizer for your first dose, hit the website or call the contact centre and see what is available.
We are, at the moment in terms of our projection of vaccine supply, we are running at around 100,000 doses a week at the moment.
That steps down to 80,000 doses a week from the beginning of July.
I have fewer people that I can vaccinate from the beginning of July onwards at the same time as ATAGI is encouraging us to shift more people into the Pfizer platform.
It will be a congested space over the coming weeks unless we see more vaccine."
Q: When you make the first dose booking, is there the capacity to make the second dose booking at the same time?
A: "Not at this point. The way we set it up is we're keen to get people through on the first doses.
There was a push to get the first doses done in past few weeks."
Q: Is there a move to prioritise people in their 20s and 30s?
A: "We are part of a national rollout; the Commonwealth programs have clear priorities for the order of the rollout. We have followed that through in Victoria.
The prioritisation is 40s and above at this point and the critical workforces.
With a limited supply we have available, now is not the time to start opening up more people to compete over a limited supply."
Q: How big a set back is the Commonwealth decision last night and was there enough consideration of the tight Pfizer supply in that decision?
A: Acting premier James Merlino: There is no doubt this is a setback. As we have seen before with a similar advice and decision of the Commonwealth, there is a hit to public confidence.
It is really important if you have had your first dose of AstraZeneca and no adverse effects, please get your second dose.
There is no doubt that there will be a hit to public confidence, at the same time that we're seeing a reduction in the number of vaccines that are supplied to Victoria in July.
"We are seeing a 20,000 reduction in vaccines from 105,000 to around 85,000 at the same time we have got this advice which will hit public confidence and increase demand for that cohort of people, 50-59, to get a Pfizer jab.
This is a race and as a nation we're falling behind. That is the reality. We don't have, from the Commonwealth, sufficient numbers of vaccines for second doses to match the demand for first doses. That is a fact. That may well change later in the year but right now we are falling behind as a nation in this race."
Q: I am now eligible for a Pfizer vaccine, but I have a booking for an AstraZeneca vaccine. What do I do?
A: Merlino: "In terms of people between 50-59 that have got a booking for AstraZeneca, we will switch them over to Pfizer."
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