Fears are growing that pharmacies and doctors could soon be flooded with up seven million people seeking early booster shots as Covid cases continue to rise across Australia.
The country saw another record-high day of cases on Wednesday with NSW recording 3,763 new Covid cases and Victoria detecting 1,503.
The government has been pushing for residents to get their booster shots, with discussions underway to reduce the time frame to four months to help prevent thousands of additional infections.
But there is worry that this could cause chaotic queues due to a lack of availability at GPs and pharmacies with fewer health professionals offering the service as the federal government has cut funding.
There are fears pharmacies and doctors could soon be flooded with up seven million people seeking early booster shots (pictured)
The government already reduced the waiting period for getting a third vaccination dose from six months to five, meaning 4.1 million are eligible for a booster jab.
If, as is proposed, the waiting period is further reduced to four months due to the Omicron variant threat, then around seven million Australians will be able to get an early booster.
Trent Twomey, the national president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, said there is already a falling number of pharmacies offering booster jabs of Covid-19 vaccines.
The industry was taken by surprise when the government reduced the waiting time for getting a third shot.
‘Pharmacists and GPs are overwhelmed. We have been flooded by demand for the boosters, we were caught off guard when the Commonwealth reduced the vaccination interval from six months to five months,’ he said.
‘What we have seen is there are 3,500 pharmacies participating six months ago in the primary dose vaccination strategy and we have seen that reduce now to just over 2,000 for the booster program,’ he said.
The childhood vaccination program, which is starting on Monday, January 10, has only got 1,300 pharmacies signed up to take part so far, with the Australian Medical Association saying it’s the same situation with general practices.
Mr Twomey said the reduction in numbers of health professionals prepared to administer vaccines is money, not supply issues.
He said the federal government has ‘cut the funding to pharmacies and cut the funding to GPs for the administration of the third dose’.
Wednesday’s National Cabinet meeting between the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders could lead to a further drop in the booster shot waiting period to four months.
A nurse administers the Pfizer vaccine to a client (pictured) at the St Vincent’s Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic in Sydney. The waiting time for a booster shot has been reduced from six months to five
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet will raise the issue of the booster shot interval at the meeting.
Mr Perrottet, who is resisting calls to reimpose a mandate for waring masks indoors, said booster shots were key to curbing the spread of Omicron.
Close to 40 vaccination venues will remain open for the shots over Christmas and the new year.
The premier acknowledged the long wait times for PCR Covid tests in the days leading up to Christmas, with many anxious to get the all clear to safely attend celebrations, while others need a negative result to travel interstate.
‘I know it’s been a challenge, I know there are queues, that is unfortunately the way when there’s 140,000 tests occurring every single day,’ he said.
In Victoria, the state’s Covid testing system continues to buckle under the weight of people seeking tests in the lead up to Christmas.
Members of the public wear face masks as they line up at the NSW Health Vaccination Hub at Olympic Park in Sydney. There are fears that doctors and pharmacists could soon be flooded with people seeking a booster jab
At least 13 testing sites were temporarily closed at 8.15am on Wednesday after reaching capacity.
They span from the east at the Springers Leisure Centre in Keysborough, the north at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital and the west at Victoria University’s Werribee campus.
In the city, the Bourke Street walk-in and Montague Street drive-through are both closed again.
Albert Park’s drive-through was also inundated, immediately suspending testing after opening, for a third straight day.
Acting Premier James Merlino said the surging demand was due to holiday-makers needing a test to travel interstate for Christmas and urged patience.
‘I know this has been a very difficult time and it’s quite an inconvenience,’ he said.
‘But for the most part, across all of our 260 sites, we’re getting through [tests] in 40 minutes on average.’