By Dr Jeannie Knapp, GP and Primary Health Care Improvement GP Adviser, North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.
Risk of vaccine preventable infections is re-emerging
According to several sources, routine immunisation rates have dropped across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Australia, the Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll found 20 per cent of children under five have had their vaccinations delayed during the pandemic. This presents a significantly increased risk of vaccine preventable infections re-emerging.
It is essential to continue vaccinating
It is essential that we continue to provide vaccination services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Australian Technical Advisory Group On Immunisation (ATAGI) advise that all immunisation services continue to operate during the pandemic. Immunisation providers must maintain routine immunisation services and ensure on-time vaccination according to the current recommended schedules.
Strategies to continue vaccinating during the COVID-19 pandemic
Communicate directly to your patients about the importance of continuing vaccinations and what your clinic is doing to make it OK for them to attend. Many people are not attending GP clinics due to their perceived risk of contracting COVID-19. Communication directly from the trusted clinic can help allay their fears. Email communication is generally well received, or alternatively SMS.
Consider an email or SMS campaign to target those most in need of continuing vaccinations. For example: children under five and adults over 65. Include reassurance that it is OK to attend. Consider linking to the North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network It’s OK to see your GP campaign.
Other strategies include:
- Consider having a dedicated vaccination clinic.
- Get inventive with the space you have available. Can you set up a waiting area or vaccinate outside?
- To reduce the number of people physically inside your clinic, consider having patients wait in their car or outside and have reception phone them when ready. If there is a charge for their vaccination, reception can take the payment over the phone.
- To reduce risk of COVID-19 exposure it is acceptable to shorten the duration of observation following vaccination to five minutes if the person getting vaccinated:
- Has no history of severe allergic or post-vaccination reactions such as syncope.
- Has a parent or carer for supervision (if they are a dependent) for at least 15 minutes following vaccination.
- Does not drive within 15 minutes of vaccination.
- If your patients are not comfortable bringing children into the practice you may suggest the Royal Children’s Hospital drive-through vaccination clinic. The clinic runs Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9:00am to 1:00pm and bookings must be made in advance on their website.
- As always, ensure your COVID-19 policies are in place and up to date including screening questions for patients attending the clinic and physical distancing measures.
- North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network: Immunisation during COVID-19
- DHHS advice on immunisation during the COVID-19 pandemic
- ATAGI guiding principles for maintaining immunisation services during the COVID-19 pandemic
- The Australian Immunisation Handbook
- Infant and children immunisation schedule Victoria
Access the Immunisation pathways on HealthPathways Melbourne for the latest clinical advice.