Good morning, I'm Dr Lucas De Toca. Welcome to Top Three. I work in the Department of Health, helping with the coordination of the Primary Care Response to COVID-19, including the rollout of the vaccine. I'm joined here by James as usual to help with the messaging and make sure we have Auslan interpreting. We're here today to talk about the Coronavirus vaccine rollout. Thank you. As usual we're on Ngunnawal country. An extended acknowledgement to the traditional owners of the lands where people may be watching from.
Today's shout out of course goes to our friends, colleagues, family, the people of Queensland, particularly greater Brisbane and the Moreton Bay area. You're in the midst of a three-day snap lockdown and looking at how authorities are responding to their growing cases of locally transmitted COVID-19. I can only imagine how frustrating and difficult it is to go through lockdown, but I am extremely grateful, as we are all, for all the work that you're doing in partnership with health authorities in Queensland to keep us all safe by following public health guidance and the directions from the Health Department. We are all with you, we are grateful for what you're doing, and we're all thinking of you.
First question, why are we starting phase 1b of the rollout when not everybody from
phase 1a has been vaccinated?
Yeah, we do we do get that a lot. As you know the vaccine rollout is structured in a way that makes sure people who are at high risk of getting COVID or high risk of severe disease from COVID get vaccinated first and that's why a number of people were identified in phase 1a as the highest priority to get the vaccine. That included people living in residential, age and disability care facilities and the staff, people in quarantine work, borders, International ports, so the people who are at risk of getting in contact with the virus from overseas and then members of the healthcare workforce that are directly involved in COVID care testing centres, COVID wards, intensive care. That rollout has progressed over the last few weeks and actually several hundred thousand people from 1a have already received their first dose and many have received their second dose already, but the phases of the vaccine roll out were never meant to be, sort of, hard barriers, we cannot wait to complete every single person in 1a before we move to 1b, in fact people will come into 1a as time goes by, new people will join residential aged care facilities, new people will start working in quarantine facilities, so this is an ongoing work that as people become eligible we continue giving them access to the vaccine. So we've commenced as of last week phase 1b which now expands eligibility to older people, people over 70 years of age, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 55 years and over, other healthcare workers, some emergency and critical workers such as police, defence or meat workers. As well as younger people with underlying medical conditions or significant disability and some of their carers, and that's a massive expansion to that has rendered over 6 million additional people eligible to get the vaccine and that has commenced really strongly from last week with over 100 000 people receiving the vaccine through their GP, GP respiratory clinic, Aboriginal Community Control Health Service over the last week alone. So we're going to see this rapid increase of people accessing the vaccine while 1a continues through the normal channels. Most people in 1a are being offered a vaccine or an appointment through the residential aged care or disability care facility or through their employer, if they're in one of the occupational risk categories. Ultimately more and more appointments become available, more and more clinics come online as the rollout progresses and so if you're eligible, and you can check it on the eligibility checker on the Department's website, have a look at what appointments are available or maybe your GP will contact you and when it is your turn to get a vaccine, and please get it because they're the best way to help protect us and the community and move on from this virus.
Second question. How can I avoid misinformation about COVID-19?
Yeah, there's lots of information about COVID-19 everywhere. It has dominated our consciousness over the last year and a lot of that comes through social media. In fact, this video is on social media, so social media has a lot of advantages, including the option of providing this direct input between institutions like the Department of Health and the public and that's why we're using it, as we are using many other channels to communicate. However, that has also come that that sort of accessibility of information has also come with other risks, like the spread of misinformation that we have seen across social media and other channels, on many issues but definitely around COVID-19. It is important that we keep a lookout on what the official and what the formal and scientific, well-informed information is versus what is just random posts shared on Facebook. If in doubt, ultimately, go to official sources that have the best medical advice and public health advice inputting into them, internationally and nationally. In Australia, the Health Department's website on health.gov.au is updated several times a day with the latest information that you need. There's also a new section called, ‘Is it true?’ that actually captures a lot of these frequently asked questions and so-called myths. Some of them with some basis, some of them not, and helps answer them because there really isn't like, a silly question or such thing as a stupid thing to ask. We all have questions about COVID, it's impacted all our lives and it's important that those questions get answered. So, that section in the Department's website answers a lot of those frequently asked questions and myths around COVID and the vaccines and gets updated very regularly. We also welcome you submitting questions that you have so that we can flag them in the website. You can also go to the Government's Health Direct website and they have a symptom checker if you're concerned about COVID-19 and the symptoms and can point you at a location where you can get tested or you can also call the National current virus helpline run by Health Direct to answer your questions. The coronavirus helpline can be accessed on 1-800-020-080, alternatively you can also contact the translating and interpreting service, which is a great service to help you and your family when your first language is not English, like it happens with many people in Australia, including myself, so you can call the translating and interpreting services on 131 450.
And finally, can I address other health matters with my GP when I get my free COVID-19 vaccine?
Yeah, so I think the main point we need to make today because it's the most important one, is that the vaccine is free for everyone in Australia and that means that you cannot be charged for the cost of the vaccine, for the cost of the assessment to determine whether you're suitable to have the vaccine, or for the cost of the delivery of the vaccine. The vaccine process has to be a free at no additional cost or process, regardless of where you get it. So the government has approved changes to the Medicare benefits scheme, the MBS, the sort of, Medicare payments that allow you to access doctors with a subsidised consultation so that there are no out-of-pocket costs associated with the vaccine, it's all fully covered. If you don't have a Medicare card, you can still get the vaccine for free at a GP Respiratory Clinic, and there's over 100 of those across the country, or a state and territory vaccination clinic and again the whole the whole process is free of charge. Nobody needs to book a separate appointment to assess whether they're suitable for the vaccine and definitely no one can be charged for that separate appointment. The assessment of suitability should be the same appointment at which you are receiving your vaccine and the whole thing is free. On the other hand, if during your vaccine appointment or at a different service, another medical issue comes up that you want to address, then you may need to book a separate appointment or your GP might then charge you for a different service based on what arrangements you have with your normal provider. So those additional appointments may be charged, if that's how your GP operates, but there needs to be a clear understanding that that is not related to the vaccine process, because anything related to the vaccine, when you check whether you're eligible, whether you have the consultation, where you go through the consent process, if you have doubts about it, while you're getting it and the actual administration of the vaccine, all of that has to be free.
That's all the questions for today. Really interesting questions actually, if I may say so. We get those a lot, but thank you for sending them through because that's the whole point of this segment, that we address questions that are relevant to you and not just things that we think are interesting, so thank you for continuing to be engaged. Thank you for continuing to practice COVID safe behaviours, thank you to our friends in Brisbane who are adhering to the lockdown and thank you James for the interpreting. See you next time.
- Why are we starting phase 1B of the rollout when not everyone from Phase 1a has been vaccinated?
- How can I avoid misinformation about COVID-19?
- Can I address other health matters with my GP when I get my free COVID-19 vaccine?