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Mass coronavirus vaccination hubs planned for SA

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UPDATED: Mass vaccination hubs are being planned for South Australia to help with the huge task of immunising the population against COVID-19, as reports emerge of a “chaotic” system unfolding across general practice clinics.

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SA Health has gone out to tender seeking expressions of interest to help run large-scale vaccination centres and booking services but has given organisations just days to respond.

Tender documents – seen by InDaily – state that on-site clinics are likely to be established at three Department for Health and Wellbeing locations, with help needed to run them.

Organisations have until Thursday to lodge their applications and “late responses will not be accepted”, prompting concerns from the Opposition about the short time-frame.

Phase 1b of the vaccination rollout began today – for people aged 70 and over, Indigenous Australians over 55, those with a medical condition or disability, and workers deemed high risk.

Local GP and chairman of the Immunisation Coalition Dr Rod Pearce said his Athelstone clinic had delayed Phase 1b by a week because it was “too unpredictable”, there were problems with the booking system and staff were being inundated.

“It’s an absolute mess,” he told InDaily.

“We thought the system was too rocky to start.

“Patients are getting more and more frustrated and it’s just become really difficult.

“People are having trouble with the online booking system and front desk staff are getting bombarded.”

He said other GP clinics were also experiencing similar problems.

But the Adelaide Primary Health Network – which is one of the organisations overseeing the huge vaccination program – rejected suggestions there were any major problems.

Chief executive Deb Lee said “that’s the first I’ve heard of it”.

“We’ve got 70 very happy general practices (across Adelaide) open and providing vaccinations as we’re speaking,” Lee told InDaily.

“They’re all geared up, they’ve all got the resources they need, they’ve got the staff they need.

“They’ve had this process in the planning and the rollout of it has been going for a couple of months so they’ve had a very reasonable lead-in time. We are doing it in a planned and methodical way.”

Lee said plans were underway to set up large vaccination hubs to help with the roll-out of the huge logistical task of vaccinating the South Australian population.

“SA Health released a tender over the weekend inviting organisations to apply for large vaccination sites,” she said.

“There will be a vast expansion of where you can access the vaccines.

“By May they’re looking at bringing more general practices on board and potentially every general practice will start receiving vaccines in May.”

It’s unclear when and where exactly the hubs will be operating.

“We’ll have coverage with general practice, then in a timely fashion we will have larger vaccination sites which SA Health will be running and the plan is to ensure that we’ve got the best coverage we can have,” Lee said.

Lee said the hubs would be particularly beneficial for regional areas, where access to GP clinics was limited.

“I think it’s vital that we get some of these big hubs out in areas where people are going to struggle to access vaccination sites in the first few months,” she said.

The tender documents give organisations until 2pm on Thursday to lodge their applications, with approvals to be made by next Tuesday and successful suppliers notified the same day.

“Respondents are requested (to) submit an (expression of interest) for the provision of services for pre-registration and booking Covid-19 vaccines utilising SA Health’s IT along with providing vaccine centre/s within Metropolitan Adelaide and certain regional areas for SA Health,” the tender states.

It states one of SA Health’s key objectives as “understanding respondent capacity to accelerate scale-up with short lead times and commence mass volume vaccinations”.

Opposition health spokesperson Chris Picton raised concerns about the “incredibly short timeframe” organisations had been given to respond to the tender “for such important work”.

“This raises the question ‘why do states like Victoria and WA already have mass vaccinations sites available, but SA is only starting the tender process now?'” he said.

“Overwhelmingly South Australians are enthusiastic about supporting the vaccination effort, but the rollout… has been slow so far in our state.”

Picton said while Phase 1B was starting, there were “still many essential workers in Phase 1A who haven’t been able to have a vaccine yet”.

“We need to make sure we aren’t falling further behind the rollout in other states,” he said.

“We can’t have this delayed response undermining public confidence in this hugely important rollout.

“Labor has been constructive and put to the government proposals at the start of January, including early identifying sites and planning for regional and remote area vaccinations.”

The Adelaide Primary Health Network said that as of yesterday 21,091 coronavirus vaccinations had been administered in South Australia – 14,365 by SA Health and a further 6,729 by the Commonwealth Government.

The first phase, 1a – for aged care and disability residents and staff, and frontline workers – began a month ago.

Lee said the number of GP clinics administering the vaccine was expected to increase in Adelaide from 70 to 190 in the next four weeks.

She said the next phase – 2a, for the over 60s – would hopefully begin in May, with “everyone else” vaccinated after that.

Lee said the aim to have everyone in Australia vaccinated by October was still realistic.

“As long as we can get a supply of vaccine that we can rely on and now that we’ve got the domestic supply of AstraZeneca approved, I think it’s looking like we’re in that timeframe,” she said.

Australian-made vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine are set to be released this week after the national medicine regulator approved domestic production.

Pearce maintained it had been a “disappointing start” to the vaccine rollout.

“But once the vaccine supply is known, we think very quickly the bugs will be ironed out and it will go well,” he said.

“Until it’s in control of general practice we think it’s going to continue to be chaotic and difficult.”

Asked what he thought of plans to introduce large-scale vaccination hubs in SA, he said: “If they’re run as chaotically as the rest of the system it may not make it any easier.”

The health department’s tender documents state that several of the cohorts identified in phases 1a and 1b “may benefit from onsite/mobile vaccination clinics”.

“We are seeking a skilled clinical delivery team to potentially visit identified sites and undertaken an onsite vaccination program,” the documents state.

“These are likely to be located in metropolitan areas but there may also be a requirement for some regional delivery.

“For example, a particular cohort (eg emergency workers) could see the establishment of workplace onsite clinics to safely vaccinate up to 4000 emergency service personnel over a 6 – 8 week period. Sites may be potentially north, south and central metropolitan Adelaide.”

The tender documents also identify “an immediate need” for a third party to undertake the vaccination process for Kangaroo Island residents due to a lack of GP presence on the island.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr Emily Kirkpatrick this afternoon told reporters there were “no announcements at this point in time” regarding plans for mass vaccination clinics.

Responding to concerns about delays in SA’s vaccination program, Kirkpatrick said “it needs to be a slow, steady commencement”.

“There’s no point rolling out a vaccine at rapid speed (and) not having the systems and the protocols in place to make sure this is safe for the community,” she said.

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