Australia People are finding ways to get a COVID-19 vaccine before they're eligible. Here's where Victoria's rules stand

00:50  25 june  2021
00:50  25 june  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Oakley Germech was scouring Twitter on Tuesday when a curious post popped into his feed.

He saw reports of a Melbourne clinic allowing any adult to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine with a signed consent form in an apparent breach of national and Victorian rules.

By 10:30am the next morning, Mr Germech walked out of the same, near-empty clinic, having received his first dose of AstraZeneca.

Mr Germech's job, age, background and what he disclosed about his medical history meant he did not qualify to receive a vaccine.

The 24-year-old is among a cohort of young Australians who want to be vaccinated and are frustrated that some doses allocated for older people are going unused.

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"I don't feel like I was jumping the queue," he said.

"There's a huge amount of AstraZeneca. Why not use some of what was sitting there?"

There have been numerous reports of Melbourne GP clinics and large vaccination hubs having fridges stocked with AstraZeneca, but receiving few bookings or walk-ups to use the doses.

A combination of changing advice for 50 to 59-year-olds, vaccine hesitancy and a lack of Pfizer doses is to blame, several doctors have told the ABC.

In recent months, other people have shared similar stories about how they were able to talk their way into vaccine clinics or receive leftover doses at the end of a day.

Some doctors and nurses, keen to see vaccines given to many people as possible, have turned a blind eye to eligibility rules, although Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said it was not a common practice.

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Mr Germech said he was able to book his second dose in 12 weeks' time, and he spread the word to friends about his experience at the clinic.

When they went to the same venue that afternoon, he said they were turned away.

Sydney man Dan Athol said he had a similar experience during a trip to Melbourne in May when he walked into the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton and received a vaccine.

Like Mr Germech, Mr Athol said doctors informed him of the risks and provided the jab despite knowing he did not qualify at the time.

"I feel strongly about this anti-vaccine rhetoric out there. I got it so I could tell people I was fine," he said.

Do I qualify for a vaccine because of my age?

Under Victoria's current guidelines, anyone aged 40 and over is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

It is recommended those aged 40-59 receive the Pfizer jab, and those older receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

However, access to the Pfizer drug has been a problem. The Victorian government has complained of Pfizer jab shortages and last week it halted new bookings.

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People aged 40 to 59 can sign a consent form and receive the AstraZeneca jab, although it is not recommended and doctors who have spoken to the ABC say few people have used this option during the past week.

"We have heard from the ground of increased wastage," Dr Moy said.

Dr Moy said some medical practices were "uncomfortable" with the legal risk of vaccinating people under 60 with the AstraZeneca vaccine even if they had signed waivers.

The vaccine has not been approved for use in children under 16.

Who else can get a vaccine?

The federal government has released a full list of eligible groups and professions.

Currently, the government says the Pfizer vaccine will be prioritised for people under 60 across all rollout phases, while the AstraZeneca jab is the recommended inoculation for those 60 and over.

An estimated 678,000 people were the first to qualify for Phase 1A of the rollout when it began in February.

Key 1A groups included aged and disability care residents and staff, quarantine and border workers and frontline health workers.

A further 6.1 million Australians became eligible under Phase 1B, which included people aged 70 and over, emergency workers such as police and paramedics, and close to 1 million more healthcare workers.

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Phase 1B also included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 55 and over.

About 2 million Australians aged 16 to 40 with underlying medical conditions — such as cancer, heart disease chronic lung disease and severe mental health disorders — also became eligible in Phase 1B and can receive Pfizer. A full list of conditions is available.

The current rollout Phase, 2A, includes other critical and high-risk workers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from 16 to 54.

I want Pfizer instead of AstraZeneca. Is it possible?

Currently, for those aged 60 and over, the answer is no in nearly all cases.

Dr Moy said GPs had been inundated with this question, with people saying they wanted the Pfizer vaccine because of their medical history and fears they were more susceptible to the very rare side effects of the AstraZeneca jab.

"They're saying, 'I've had a heart attack and I have to have Pfizer,'" Dr Moy said.

"But that's actually on the list of conditions that are OK [to receive AstraZeneca]. The same goes for previous cases of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), strokes, auto-immune conditions and diabetes."

An exemption can be granted for people with a history of:

  • Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST)
  • Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT)
  • Idiopathic splanchnic (mesenteric, portal and splenic) venous thrombosis
  • Anti-phospholipid syndrome with thrombosis

"All these conditions are as rare as hens' teeth. They aren't normal things," Dr Moy said.

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The rules may change from September, when the federal government expects to begin phasing out the AstraZeneca jab as a third vaccine, Moderna, becomes available.

Between October and December, the federal government estimates up to 570,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and up to 148,000 doses of the Moderna jab will be made available in Victoria.

The AstraZeneca supply would be subject to requests from the state government.

I haven't received a vaccine. When will I get it?

The federal government has not outlined a starting date for Phase 2B, which includes the rest of the adult population that is yet to be vaccinated.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is also yet to approve either vaccine for children, but it is monitoring clinical trials.

On Wednesday, Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the state would consider more widely opening up AstraZeneca shots to people under 60, despite the federal advice.

"We want to get maximal capacity through all our vaccination settings, including primary care, as well as our state vaccination sites," Professor Sutton told ABC Radio Melbourne.

To date, about 7 million vaccine doses have been administered in Australia, but only about 1.1 million people have received their second dose and are fully vaccinated.

At the current pace of roughly 780,000 doses a week, the 40 million doses needed to fully vaccinate the adult population would be administered by mid-April 2022.

[Zendesk COVID form embed]

The pandemic is a risky business — the virus and the treatments have hazards .
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