Booking system for COVID vax live but not fully functional

Australia’s new national vaccination information and location service is live but is not yet fully functional, with a restricted number of clinics listed on the searchable Healthdirect site and only a handful showing they are offering online bookings. Most are listed as offering telephone bookings only.

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced this morning that Australians eligible for Phase 1B will be able to find a vaccination provider through the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility checker, with vaccinations beginning next week.

“Services will come online from 22 March and progressively increase in number to more than 4,000 by the end of April – as part of Phase 1B of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine program,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.

“This staged scale up will align with the supply of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine, and as more vaccine becomes available more services will come online.”

At present, the few clinics listed as offering online bookings are only those using HealthEngine. A spokesperson for HealthDirect said the other booking engines would be added over the coming week. The spokesperson said the aim was to reflect as much choice of booking options as possible.

The eligibility site allows people not in the Phase 1b group to register their interest for receiving a notification of when they will be eligible. A new COVID-19 vaccination helpline has been added to the existing national coronavirus number at 1800 020 080.

Mr Hunt said appointments on the service finder will increase as general practices establish their systems and vaccine supply.

“More appointments will become available as more clinics come on-board,” he said. “People will still be able to book their vaccine appointments directly at a participating general practice – as they do now, for instance, to get a seasonal flu vaccine.”

“As the rollout moves into Phase two, additional general practices and selected community pharmacists will also participate in the program. No-one will miss out, whether they live in a city or country town or a very remote area.”

A Department of Health Q&A says if people prefer to book appointments with participating general practices or state vaccination clinics, they can be contacted directly.

AMA president Omar Khorshid said general practices had been inundated with calls and online bookings this morning.

“Based on the volume of calls GPs have already received today, it’s good to see that the community is confident and wants to access a COVID-19 vaccination,” Dr Khorshid said.

“However, it’s clear the government needs to make it easy for patients and general practices alike to manage bookings for COVID-19 vaccinations and be clear about how long patients may have to wait before they can get an appointment.

“Unlike the flu season, where 15 million doses are already stockpiled, this roll-out relies on a weekly supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses that is capped.

“This means that general practices will have only a modest number of doses available for patients for now.”

RACGP president Karen Price said not enough had been done by the government to communicate with patients about the roll-out process.

“Next week, 1100 general practices across Australia will commence vaccinating patients against COVID-19, starting with priority patient populations,” Dr Price said.

“Over time, the supply of vaccines will increase, as will the number of places where a patient can access a vaccine.

“However, it’s clear from the calls many general practices have received this morning that the government needs to better communicate with the community on the vaccine rollout process, and not build unrealistic expectations, particularly at this early stage.

“Many practices will already be going through their patient records to identify who is eligible and will reach out to their usual patients to organise an appointment.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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