DEMAND for the AstraZeneca vaccine has bounced back in Newcastle following Melbourne's COVID-19 outbreak, Hunter GPs say.
Dr Ben Seckold, of Hamilton Doctors, said they had noticed a "fairly big" increase in bookings since parts of Victoria were recently put back into lockdown.
"We were only booking a week in advance, now it has gone out to a couple of weeks," he said. "People who were initially reluctant are now starting to book in."
It comes as general practices have been invited to register their interest in administering the Pfizer vaccine, as well as AstraZeneca, after guidelines around the storage of the vaccine changed.
But Dr Colin Pearce, of Charlestown Square Medical Centre, warned that even if GPs eventually begin to administer Pfizer, it was still unlikely to be offered to over 50s in the foreseeable future. His practice has administered about 3000 AstraZeneca doses to date, delivering about 100 to 150 doses an hour at a weekly clinic with "all hands on deck". They were bracing for almost double that once they begin administering second doses in the next two weeks.
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Demand had picked up since the latest Melbourne outbreak.
"We were getting 400 doses a week, but we had some initial hesitancy," he said. "Prior to Melbourne, we weren't filling those clinics. We were still busy - we were doing on average about 300 vaccines a week. Now we are putting on extra evening and weekend sessions. We are going to be doing 300 or 400 second doses a week, as well as probably 300 or 400 first doses, which will require extra staff."
Dr Pearce said mass vaccination hubs - on top of what they were doing in primary care - made sense in order to get more vaccines in arms before the next inevitable outbreak.
The lack of urgency had been "frustrating".
"Once borders re-open, this hiatus is going to run out and we are going to be confronted with, if not with little outbreaks, a more diffuse outbreak of COVID," he said.
"At that time - everyone is going to panic. People are going to want the vaccine, and there will be enough, but the issue is going to be delivery. It'll be a bit like the demand for toilet paper during the pandemic. Demand will be high, but our ability to deliver it will be low."
Dr Pearce said despite current social distancing guidelines, there was a lot of viruses already circulating in the community, and COVID-19 was much more contagious.
"Once it is beyond public health contact-tracing ability, and it is in our community, social distancing and shutting down and isolation will help, but I don't believe it will contain it. At that point, vaccination is probably the only way we're not going to repeat what has happened in other countries," he said.
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