ONE of the city's top health chiefs says a COVID-19 vaccine booking debacle has been an incredibly "incompetent" stuff-up while trying to best protect the community.
The federal government's official online booking platform had been falsely directing people to the public COVID-19 testing site instead of the new Commonwealth-funded Ballarat Respiratory Clinic on Drummond Street. Both services are run by UFS in Ballarat.
The issue was corrected by early afternoon on Tuesday, after The Courier had reached out to the federal health department for comment, and one day before the UFS hub starts jabs for people eligible under phase 1b.
UFS had been lobbying to get booking details changed for about two weeks. People with vaccine appointments are encouraged to double-check for the Drummond Street North address in booking reminders.
UFS chief Lynne McLennan said this had created huge stress and anxiety on staff but also potentially for hundreds of Ballarat residents in parking and finding where to go.
Until Tuesday afternoon, the only way to get the right directions had been to call by phone - but on the government website the listed number had been for the testing clinic. This has also since been changed.
Ms McLennan said the Commonwealth had made a good, smooth roll-out for testing clinics last year, but support and detail in the vaccine roll-out seemed lacking.
This comes with Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt catching many general practice staff unawares across the nation early last week by listing the first clinics to start delivering phase 1b AstraZeneca immunisations from Monday this week.
I've never seen anything so incompetent in my long career in health.Lynne McLennan, UFS chief
"I've never seen anything so incompetent in my long career in health," Ms McLennan said.
"We've got everything ready to start.
"...A lot of people have been banked up wanting to get the vaccine but there is a difference between the two sites."
Not all general practices in the region are in the government's initial vaccine roll-out. The government has made clear participating clinic numbers should quadruple nationwide by the end of April.
About 10 clinics in the wider Ballarat region were initially listed.
Ballarat Medical Centre confirmed to The Courier on Monday it would wait until after Easter to start vaccinations, in a bid to better prepare staff and prioritise the most vulnerable patients.
Ballarat Community Health will also wait until after Easter to start phase 1b at its GP sites in Lucas, Smythesdale, Wendouree and Sebastopol.
Phones at Ballarat Group Practice clinics went unanswered but the group's website featured notification COVID-19 vaccinations would start on Wednesday.
The UFS vaccination clinic will take eligible UFS patients and eligible community members for the free vaccine and strictly by appointment only. The clinic has the capacity to inoculate a maximum 150 people per day.
This is a completely separate site and operation to the testing clinic.
To make clear:
- UFS-led vaccination site, Ballarat Respiratory Clinic, is at 18 Drummond Street North and across from Ballarat Health Services Base Hospital
- UFS public testing site is at 15 Errard Street North.
People eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination under phase 1b include: people aged 70-plus; healthcare workers; emergency service personnel; some people with underlying medical conditions; some people living with a disability; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 55-plus.
This equates to about 6.1 million Australians.
Ms McLennan urged people not to rush because there was ample vaccine supply and, as of Tuesday, no active COVID-19 cases in Victoria.
The latest data shows there has been 25 days without a locally-acquired COVID-19 case in Victoria and 15 days since the last hotel quarantine case.
The Australian health department was yet to respond to The Courier's queries on the booking bungle by time of publication due to a high volume of media queries.
Meanwhile, Ballarat Health Services remains yet to confirm a mass vaccination site to come into play when jabs step up.
Further afield, South West Healthcare is all-but-set to open on the former site of discount store Sam's Warehouse, Albury Wodonga Health's COVID-19 mass jab hub in in a former Coles supermarket in the main street of Wodonga and Barwon Health is looking to historic Geelong industry in the old Ford factory.
The UFS vaccine clinic will open Wednesday operate 9am-5.30pm on weekdays and 9am-4pm on weekends. Book online via www.ufs.com.au/vaccine. Patients who are unable to book online can phone 4320 0891, but there may be delays with high call volume.
To check eligibility visit covid-vaccine.healthdirect.gov.au/
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