If Australia can authorise 1300 GPs to give the coronavirus vaccines over one month in July, why do we still have only 113 of the 400 GP practices in Auckland authorised to give the vaccine?
Even worse, why do we only have 54 of the 400 Auckland pharmacies authorised to vaccinate and all of this during an outbreak where our vaccine rollout is currently in the bottom 10 of the OECD?
Why have we been so slow in engaging GPs and pharmacists in the coronavirus vaccine rollout?
There could be several reasons. The first reason we are told is that the cold chain that stores the vaccine has been challenging. I don't buy that. Medsafe approved 31-day storage of the vaccine under normal GP vaccine fridge conditions way back in May. Months ago. Furthermore, prior to that there were some GPs for whom the five-day shelf life was manageable, so not a good enough reason.
A second reason for the delay authorising primary care is that completely new quality measures were required for every single practice, which sometimes takes as long as six weeks, 80 page operating manuals and images of entry and exits. This is compliance gone mad and I don't buy this also. These are exactly the same practices which in the 2019 measles outbreak were very successful at giving the MMR vaccine, and measles is more infectious than coronavirus. Not a good enough reason.
A third reason could be there is simply no urgency and managing 20 different DHB plans is a higher priority. GPs give 90 per cent of vaccines and pharmacists 10 per cent so why exactly are DHBs the priority?
A fourth reason is the Government has been distracted with health restructuring. Cabinet papers from March this year state that "the" funding priority is health restructuring". The restructuring unit in Wellington in one year has gone from 24 to 78 bureaucrats and $5 million to nearly $40 million. Within the 78 are six comms people or spin doctors. On top of this there are also 21 consultants with an average salary of $200,000 per year for $4 million in total. That is a lot of distraction.
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A fifth reason I have heard is that the Government may be manipulating the vaccine rollout via DHBs to reduce the bargaining power of GPs in future negotiations in a restructured health system. This argument here says that when GPs have to approach HealthNZ in the restructured system (remember PHOs are mostly removed) that HealthNZ will reduce vaccinating levers that GPs may bring to the table by saying but we vaccinated for coronavirus. We can't determine the reality of this just now but that would be very cynical if proven.
The answer is quite simple. Mandate today that all currently vaccinating GPs and pharmacists can vaccinate for coronavirus.
For information on the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine and other things you need to know, listen to our podcast Science Digest with Michelle Dickinson: