Medical staff and doctors are being abused and threatened as frustrations over the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in regional areas reach boiling point.
“Many rural practices and health services are reporting that their staff are facing verbal abuse, and even threatening behaviour, when they tell people their place in the vaccination waitlist has not yet come up,” said Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) president Dr John Hall.
“And with the recent redirection of vaccines from rural NSW into metro areas, some waits may get longer with patients already getting anxious about potential delays.”
Dr Hall said the RDAA is calling on people to be patient, with vaccines being rolled out as quickly as they come into stock.
“We know it is a minority of people who are being like this, but it is completely unacceptable … and it really is a case of ‘biting the hand that jabs you’,” he said.
“Rural practices and health services are limited by supplies of the Pfizer vaccine being delivered into their communities.
“In many locations, they are still trying to ensure they first vaccinate those in priority groups. These include eligible people who are under 60 and have had no local access to a Pfizer vaccine until now, such as health staff, aged care staff and residents, and others at higher risk of exposure to the virus such as those with underlying medical conditions.
“Rest assured, if practices could vaccinate everybody today, they would, but it’s not that simple.”
Moruya doctor and Queen Street Medical Centre partner Dr Neil Starmer said his practice has done its best to educate patients – through its website and phone messages – to be patient.
“This has been successful in relieving the burden of explanation from our reception staff,” he said. “Although we do get regularly harangued by people with unrealistic or misguided expectations.
“Inconsistent messaging in the media resulted in an extra 100 calls to the surgery yesterday [Monday, 2 August, 2021].
“We respect any public health decision regarding the deployment of scarce vaccine resources, but we are only one delta-carrying, lockdown-defying person away from our own outbreak. The regions are vulnerable, too.”
Dr Starmer said his practice had been promised 120 Pfizer vaccines to be delivered in mid-August, which was increased to 300 a month later.
“We have been told these vaccines may not arrive in the promised numbers,” he said. “That would be disappointing – not unexpected and completely consistent with our experience of the poor vaccine rollout.
“We don’t make appointments for vaccinations until we have the vaccine in the fridge. For this reason, we have not had to cancel any vaccination appointments due to stock problems.
“We are still giving about 150 AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccines per week, and currently have more than 500 in the fridge. We currently have the capacity to vaccinate patients with AZ other than our own. We urge everyone apart from a very tiny minority to consider and take this excellent vaccine as quickly as possible.”
Dr Hall backed that call on the AZ vaccine.
“It is also now critical with new ‘priority groups’ being added to the list – and the recent TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] approval for Pfizer to 12 years and up – that people aged above 60 make their appointment for the AstraZeneca jab as they are dropping down the list to access Pfizer anytime soon,” said Dr Hall.
“For those above 60, GPs are able to supply you with AstraZeneca now. There is no need to get annoyed – it is a very good vaccine that is available for you.
“For people under 60, if you are concerned about the wait for Pfizer, talk with your GP to understand your options as well as the risks with the AstraZeneca vaccine, and then make a decision between immediate access or to wait.
“Rural practices and health services are working as hard as they can to get vaccines into arms as soon as possible, but it doesn’t help when frontline health workers have to deal with abusive behaviour.
“Please, if you are part of the minority of Australians who think it is OK to take your frustration out on frontline health staff, think again.
“Respect our health professionals and frontline health staff, and be assured we will vaccinate you as soon as we can.”