Patients with neurological conditions will be among those in the next priority group for COVID-19 vaccine when phase 1b of the rollout commences on 22 March.
With phase 1a having targeted frontline COVID-19 workers to receive Pfizer’s vaccine (‘Comirnaty’) through clinic hubs, the next phase, 1b, is planned to deliver up to 15 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine via GPs to groups including the elderly, Indigenous Australians, other frontline workers and people with specific medical conditions that put them at risk of COVID-19
In its advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination in Australia, the Department of Health states that the medical conditions conferring risk of COVID-19 include people with neurological conditions such as stroke, dementia and ‘other’.
The priority list also includes people with conditions such as chronic inflammatory disease, lung disease and uncontrolled high blood pressure, as well as some groups on immunosuppressive therapies or with immunodeficiency.
People with underlying conditions will need to provide proof of them to demonstrate their eligibility for vaccination via MyHealth record, a health professional referral if required or a declaration form.
In phase 1b, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be made available through GPs and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services. The government’s COVID-19 information site says that patients will not be able to choose which vaccine they receive and that “specific vaccines will be administered based on availability and subject to any determination made by the TGA. “
However some immunisation experts have suggested that people with high risk medical conditions such as haematological cancers should be targeted for the Pfizer vaccine because of its higher efficacy over the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Speaking at a Senate public hearing on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine on 2 March, Professor Raina MacIntyre of the University of NSW Global Biosecurity Program said she thought that people in group 1b should be getting Pfizer as well, because there was a high proportion of immunosuppressed people in this category.
“I know the oncology society, the haematologists, the clinicians and the specialist societies that look after immunosuppressed patients are concerned because their patients are more at risk of infection and more at risk of severe complications.
Professor Robert Booy, a paediatrician and former Head of Clinical Research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) at Westmead, NSW, said he agreed, and there should be no logistical problem with delivering Pfizer vaccine via GP practices.
“I also think 1b people could benefit greatly,” he said.
“I’ve had people writing to me from that group, and I’ve said, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ But I think it also needs to be understood that the Pfizer vaccine, although coming in freezers at minus 17, can, once it’s defrosted, sit for five days in a fridge which is monitored before it’s reconstituted at two degrees. So GPs could manage that and they could be very involved in the rollout of Pfizer vaccines.