Wagga GPs are seeing the vaccine rollout take a huge toll on staffing as small surgeries work overtime to vaccinate patients.
Blamey Street Surgery's Dr Rachel Glasson says they are gearing up to start offering Pfizer alongside AstraZeneca from Monday, but said participating in the vaccine program has been extremely taxing for staff and doctors.
"Being able to staff the number of people needed to run a vaccination clinic, [including] a nurse, receptionist, and doctor has been a concern," Dr Glasson said.
"I am a bit concerned that with Pfizer coming hopefully at the end of this week and starting on Monday, it could be a bit of an issue, but it is an essential service and we'll just have to put in the extra hours."
At Central Wagga Medical and Skin Clinic, Dr Tracey Purnell has decided to withdraw from the rollout once her patients have been fully vaccinated.
She said the massive staffing demands of running a vaccination program on top of their skin cancer clinic became impossible to meet, though she stressed that all patients who have started their vaccinations will be able to access their second shots and all remaining doses will be used.
"There's a whole background for administering vaccines that people don't see," Dr Purnell said. "We struggle with keeping the phone lines open and people can't get through.
"If you add 10 or 20 phone calls every day, we don't have the capacity to deal with them. Its not just the staffing to actually deliver the vaccine, it is the ordering, the storage, setting up for it."
Both GPs agreed changing advice on preferred vaccines has added to the stress, with GPs now needing to consult with under-60s about taking AstraZeneca, and having to work hard to reassure patients and provide up to date advice.
"It is not a criticism that that happened because it's a developing situation, but it is difficult to make that work clinically, to give the best advice to patients," Dr Purnell said.
Glenrock Country Practice's Dr Ayman Shenouda predicted back in April that GPs would be put under too much pressure if they were relied upon to administer the vaccine.
Today, Dr Purnell agrees that major hubs focusing exclusively on the COVID vaccines are far better equipped for the huge demands.
"It is a stressor logistically for GPs and I think immunisation hubs are a much better idea," she said.
Dr Glasson said her staff are regularly pulling 12 hour days, one receptionist clocking in at 7:30 on Monday and working past 8:30PM as calls flooded in, but they are happy to make sacrifices for the rollout.
"Our people are putting in the long hours, but we know it's not forever and it's our only pathway out of the pandemic," Dr Glasson said.
At the same time, she has had to urge patients to show her staff respect, as some confusion around changing health advice prompts tense scenes.
"We had to put a post on social media last week as there is a degree of that frustration in patients," Dr Glasson said. "The side effect of rapidly changing advice is a few people are very confused and a bit wary.... they can get quite upset that the government is dictating who gets what.
"It does puts more of a burden on GPs, and there is nothing more we can do than be the calm voice of reason."
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