The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging patients to get their COVID-19 vaccinations once they are eligible.
The advice follows changes to the vaccine rollout in Australia, with health authorities recommending people under 50 receive the Pfizer vaccine rather than the AstraZeneca vaccine amid concerns of a link to a small number of blood clot cases.
The RACGP is also reminding patients it is still important to get their influenza vaccine this year.
Patients are usually advised to get their annual influenza vaccine before the start of the flu season, which commonly peaks from June to September in most parts of Australia.
However, this year the flu vaccine needs to be managed alongside the phased rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
Older and more vulnerable people have been prioritised for COVID-19 vaccination and will be receiving these over the next few months.
Conversely, most younger and healthier people will not be receiving COVID-19 vaccinations until later in 2021, so they are being strongly encouraged to get their flu vaccine when it becomes available this month.
RACGP president Dr Karen Price urged patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine once they were eligible and to talk to their GP if they have concerns.
“These are uncertain times and I understand why the latest changes to the vaccine rollout may be confusing for some people,” she said.
“But we must hold the line and keep faith in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
“We won’t be able to protect our community unless people put their hand up to be vaccinated. So, when you are eligible to be vaccinated, I urge you to get vaccinated and discuss with your GP any concerns you have.
“Not only that, please spread the word to friends, family and colleagues that they should do the same.
“GPs will be doing their best to advise their patients and that will be crucial; however, for some people hearing the message about the importance of vaccination from a close family member or friend can make all the difference.
“Say to them that this is still a very safe vaccine and the risk of adverse effects is extremely small.
“Because we currently have no COVID-19 community transmission in Australia, we can afford to wait to vaccinate people under 50 with another vaccine.”
Dr Price said the twin rollouts of the vaccines was an enormous logistical exercise, especially as they were not recommended to be given at the same time.
“We are dealing with the twin threats of influenza and COVID-19, for which two national vaccination programs will be rolling out at the same time – it’s a lot for our health system to manage, and it’s a lot for patients.“I have every confidence that general practice is up to the task, vaccines are business as usual for GPs.
“But we do need a different approach to get the job done.
“That’s why we are urging patients in later phases for the COVID-19 vaccine to get their flu shot as soon as it is available, and then get their COVID-19 vaccine when they can.
“This will help to minimise strain on the health system and make the experience easier for patients.”