Tuesday, 15 Jun 2021

Mass vaccine centres start offering Pfizer shots to walk-ins under 50

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An increasing number of Victoria’s mass vaccination centres are offering Pfizer shots for people aged in their 40s who walk in off the street, as thousands rush to immunisation hubs for protection against the COVID-19 outbreak.

The state government has insisted its coronavirus vaccine hotline is improving following a widespread meltdown of the booking system last week as it expanded eligibility for the vaccine at short notice to people in their 40s, causing confusion and delays.

People queue to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton on Monday.Credit:Eddie Jim

However, late on Monday afternoon some calls to the hotline were still not reaching operators, and callers were again being hit with a busy signal before being hung up on.

The push to speed up the vaccine rollout by accepting walk-ins for Pfizer without appointments came as acting Premier James Merlino warned Victoria’s COVID-19 crisis “may well get worse before it gets better”, with 11 new locally acquired cases confirmed on Monday.

Western Health, which runs one of Victoria’s biggest vaccine centres at the Melbourne Showgrounds and another at Sunshine Hospital, confirmed at 3pm on Monday that it was accepting walk-ins for Pfizer shots after pausing vaccine walk-ins last week due to extraordinary demand.

But huge demand at the Showgrounds for Pfizer shots among those aged under 50 led the clinic to stop accepting people without appointments from 4.30pm, as lines swelled into the thousands.

People aged over 50 can book AstraZeneca appointments at mass vaccination centres or walk in without an appointment, and they can also book through a GP. The Pfizer vaccine is not yet available via GPs.

St Vincent’s Hospital, which operates the vaccination hub at Carlton’s Royal Exhibition Centre, also began accepting walk-ins for people in their 40s to receive the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.

A St Vincent’s Hospital spokeswoman said the health service had ample supply of the Pfizer vaccine. She said more Victorians had been able to make appointments via the state-run coronavirus hotline on Monday, and this had resulted in slightly less pressure on the Royal Exhibition Centre vaccination site, making it possible to start Pfizer jabs for walk-ins.

The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, which is overseen by the Department of Health, allowed walk-ins for the Pfizer vaccine from late on Monday. This resulted in lines stretching several-hundred metres, and those in the queue were told it could be a more than three-hour wait.

A ban on walk-ins for Pfizer shots for those aged 40-49 remains in place at Austin Health’s mass clinic at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, which continues to be inundated with people who had booked their vaccines online.

Hundreds of people queuing up outside the Heidelberg hospital were waiting an average of two hours for their vaccine by 4pm on Monday.

Vaccine clinics run out of The Alfred hospital and Northern Hospital are not accepting walk-ins for Pfizer shots, and people are urged to continue to call the coronavirus hotline.

The Age revealed on Friday the state government had been unable to deploy a high-tech management system for online bookings it bought three months ago to support mass inoculation.

There has been no indication of when this online booking system will be up and running.

A dedicated 1-800 vaccination hotline that was set up late last week to cope with demand was also overwhelmed, prompting Victoria’s senior public servants to call for more staff to man the phones.

The Victorian Health Department has been contacted for comment.

People aged 40-49 can book an appointment to receive the vaccine by calling the coronavirus hotline on  1800 675 398. To see the full list of vaccine centres or for more information, click here.

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