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COVID-19: Latest news for general practices

While first published in January 2020, this page is continually being added to and updated.

Novel coronavirus is an evolving international health concern. We are publishing regular updates on this page, but encourage health professionals to also view the Coronavirus for health professionals section of our website.

COVID-19 Statistics for our region

21 June Update 

Pfizer Vaccination Roll-Out in General Practice 

From Monday 5 July, six practices in our region (one in Blue Mountains, two in Hawkesbury, one in Lithgow and one in Penrith) will delivering Pfizer, as well as AstraZeneca, vaccinations. On Monday 12 July, an additional eight practices will come on board (including one in Blue Mountains, one in Lithgow and five in Penrith) totalling 14 practices.

We are continuing to work with the Department of Health to identify further practices to deliver the Pfizer vaccine. If your practice is currently participating in the COVID-19 Vaccination Program and you are interested in delivering the Pfizer vaccine as well as AstraZeneca, contact your practice support officer.

In addition, a further nine practices have come onboard to deliver Astra Zeneca vaccinations. This means that from today we will have 90 practices and three GP Respiratory Clinics delivering COVID-19 vaccinations in our region. 

Identifying TTS in Vaccinated Patients

Patients presenting with symptoms of thrombosis with thrombocytopaenia syndrome (TTS) in the 4 to 30 days after vaccination should be managed as per the latest ACEM and THANZ advice. HealthPathways details the investigation and management of TTS under the Vaccination Procedure Pathway (navigate to Management and reporting of side-effects). The Department of Health has collated information for clinicians.

MBS Item for Vaccination Assessment

From 18 June vaccinating GPs who provide in-depth clinical assessments of patients aged 50 and over, regarding individual risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, will be able to access two new MBS items. These items may be claimed if a vaccination assessment appointment exceeds 10 minutes, and must be provided in conjunction with a relevant MBS COVID-19 vaccine suitability assessment items. For more information visit the MBS website.

Vaccine Dose Policy for RACFs

The Vaccine Dose Policy providing guidance on administering COVID-19 vaccines in aged care facilities has recently been updated (21 June). This policy includes information about managing excess doses, make up doses and alternative access to vaccination.
 

18 June Update 

NSW Health Moves to Amber Alert

Commencing 5pm today, NSW Health services in Metropolitan Sydney (including Nepean Blue Mountains Region) will move from green to amber alert in line with the COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control Response Framework. In line with the amber level, mask wearing for NSW Health employed staff will be required until Monday afternoon, 21 June. Practices should consider reviewing their own infection control procedures in light of this change. 

Community Mask-Wearing Update

NSW Health advice regarding mask wearing has been issued for people in Sydney and Blue Mountains (excluding the Central Coast and Wollongong and the Illawarra). From 4pm today (Friday 18 June) to 12.01am on Thursday 24 June you are asked to:

  • Avoid non-essential visits to aged care and disability facilities, but if visiting, wear a mask and limit visits to two people per day.
  • Wear masks on public transport (masks will be mandatory on public transport from 4pm today).
  • Masks are strongly encouraged in all public indoor venues such as retail, theatres, hospitals, aged care facilities and for some hospitality staff.

CMO Letter to General Practices

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Professor Paul Kelly has issued a letter to general practices regarding the updated COVID-19 vaccine advice from ATAGI. This letter references:

HealthPathways Updated

All three COVID-19 Vaccination Pathways in HealthPathways have been updated to reflect the latest clinical advice from ATAGI. These include:  

Request access to HealthPathways on our website.  

Resources for Vaccination Providers

There are a number of recently updated resources for vaccination providers:

Vaccination Resources for Patients

The Department of Health has recently added these patient vaccination resources to assist in decision-making around their vaccination:

17 June Update 

Updated ATAGI Advice on AstraZeneca use in Patients under 60

Advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has been updated TODAY (17 June) to advise that the Pfizer vaccine is the preferred vaccine for patients under 60 years of age. AstraZeneca was previously recommended for use in patients aged 50-59, however this advice has been revised due to a higher risk and observed severity of thrombosis and thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) than reported internationally and initially estimated in Australia. ATAGI have updated their Clinical Guidelines with the latest information. 

Patients aged 50-59 years who have already received their first dose of AstraZeneca should continue to receive their second dose as the rate of TTS following the second dose has been far lower than for the first dose.

If you have patients aged 50-59 years booked in for their first dose of AstraZeneca in the coming days or weeks, then practices should cancel these appointments.

MBS item for Vaccination Assessment

From 14 June GPs who conduct a COVID-19 vaccine suitability assessment service in a residential aged care facility, a residential disability facility setting or at a patient’s place of residence, will be able to access an MBS item which provides a "flag-fall" fee.  For more information visit the MBS website

10 June Update

Vaccination Eligibility Update

People Aged 40-49, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 16 to 49, NDIS participants aged years 16 and over, and carers of NDIS participants of any age, and some travellers eligible through the travel exemption process, can now book their Pfizer vaccination through the Eligibility Checker

Vaccination and Pregnancy Update

joint statement between RANZCOG and ATAGI on 9 June has recommended that pregnant women are routinely offered the Pfizer vaccine at any stage of pregnancy. This is because the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 is significantly higher for pregnant women and their unborn baby.

8 June Update

Second Dose and Flu Vaccination Timing

A reminder that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) clinical guidelines (3 June) recommend timing between COVID-19 vaccine doses is as follows:

  • Pfizer/BioNTech: at least 21 days apart
  • AstraZeneca: at least 12 weeks apart

On 3 June the ATAGI clinical guidelines revised the time between the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccine, including the influenza vaccine, to a minimum interval of 7 days. This interval can be shortened (including same day administration) in special circumstances.

ATAGI Advice on AstraZeneca (3 June)

Advice from ATAGI regarding AstraZeneca vaccine safety has been updated to include further details regarding Thrombosis and Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS) rates in Australia and overseas. Although estimates of risk based on small numbers of cases are imprecise, the risk of TTS is estimated in Australia at around 3.1 per 100,000 in those under 50 years and 1.8 per 100,000 in those over 50 years.

Vaccination Information

  • Pfizer Vaccinations for People Aged 40-49: From today people aged 40-49 will be eligible for vaccination. Bookings can be made through the Eligibility Checker. 
  • Vaccinations for Over 50s: AstraZeneca vaccinations for people over 50 are available from GP-led Respiratory Clinics and participating GPs. Bookings for these services can be made through the Eligibility Checker. Pfizer vaccinations are only available to people over 50 if they meet the ATAGI criteria for Pfizer
  • Pfizer Vaccinations for Patients Under 40 with Underlying Conditions: All persons aged under 40 years with specified underlying medical conditions can book a Pfizer vaccination for themselves at the NBMLHD Vaccination Hub using the eligibility checker. Patients must provide evidence of these conditions as outlined by the Department of Heath. 

AIHW COVID-19 MBS/PBS Report

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has released a report detailing the impacts of COVID-19 on the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)

Aged Care IPC Update Webinar

On 3 June the Department of Health held a webinar for the aged care sector on the importance of maintaining Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) practices to protect aged care residents and staff, and encouraging aged care workers to get vaccinated. The webinar is available online.

3 June Update

Vaccination Bookings at the Nepean Pfizer Hub

  • All persons aged under 50 years with specified underlying medical conditions can now book a Pfizer vaccination for themselves using the eligibility checker. Patients must provide evidence of these conditions as outlined by the Department of Heath
  • All persons over 50 years who are referred to the Vaccination Clinic by GPs, as they meet the ATAGI criteria for Pfizer, need to be forwarded to SHEOC for final approval. Only referrals that meet this criteria will be forwarded by the Vaccination Clinic to SHEOC for approval. If the referral does not meet the criteria, the patient is unable to access the Pfizer vaccination and should be offered the AstraZeneca vaccination by their GP.

 

Vaccinations for Disability Supported Living Accommodation

There are more options for people with disabilities to receive their vaccination as the roll-out program continues to develop. We are currently working with disability supported living accommodation providers in our region to coordinate access to the most appropriate vaccine for their staff and residents. Since 14 May, 133 staff and residents have received their first round of vaccinations. 

26 May Update

Checking AIR Prior to Patient Vaccination

The Department of Health has advised that some people have potentially received:

  • More than two doses of COVID-19 vaccines
  • Doses of different vaccines
  • The influenza vaccine within 14 days of a COVID-19 vaccine

It is important to check each patient’s immunisation history before administering any vaccines. Patients immunisation history can be viewed through The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR)Clinician Vaccine Integrated Platform (CVIP) and My Health Record.

Transfer of AstraZeneca Vaccines

The Department of Health has provided guidance for practices on the transfer of AstraZeneca vaccine stock between participating vaccination sites. Practice Support can help by identifying practices who may want an increase in supply. However, transfers remain the responsibility of the sites involved (eg maintaining cold-chain) and must be captured in the weekly Stock Management Report in CVAS (due 9pm Fridays). Contact Practice Support on 4708 8100 or online.

Increase to AstraZeneca Dose Allocations

Further to the last increase of AstraZeneca doses for vaccinating practices within our region, some practices have been identified to receive a further increase. This increase will enable practices to continue to provide first doses to patients, while ensuring sufficient supply to administer second doses. It will also allow practices to offer more appointments. Patients can make vaccine appointments through the Eligibility Checker.

TGA Extension of Pfizer Storage Period

On Monday 24 May, the TGA has extended the approved storage period of unopened thawed Comirnaty (Pfizer) COVID-19 vaccine. This change now extends the storage period of an unopened thawed vial at 2-8°C (i.e. in a normal refrigerator after taking out of deep-freeze conditions) to up to one month (31 days). This approval will allow much greater flexibility for vaccine providers.

 

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