Influenza and Covid Vaccine clinics – how will they work?

Influenza vaccines have arrived on the Gold Coast. But what does that mean for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout? Should you wait until you can get both together? How do you find out where and when you can get yours? What if you still have questions about the risks for either the flu or the Covid vaccine?

Unfortunately the rollout of the Covid (Oxford-AstraZeneca) vaccines to the general public got off to a rocky start, with premature release of the National Online booking system (which went live before GP practices were expecting it). This resulted in Gold Coast General Practices being swamped with phone calls from patients asking many of the above questions.

In summary, in most situations its best to get your Covid vaccine as soon as you are eligible and offered one, but wait until late April/early May to have your flu jab. These vaccines also need to be separated by at least 14 days, so you need to think about the timing of each.

Hopefully this blog helps you understand the reasons behind this. To start with its important to understand a bit about how the Covid vaccine is being rolled out:

Not every practice that gives the Influenza vaccine is giving the Covid vaccine too

In order to be able to give Covid vaccines (Oxford-AstraZeneca only), GP practices have had to undergo a rigorous application process, and not all practices chose to do this. Of the approximately 6600 accredited practices in Australia, only 2/3 will be administering Covid vaccines, and in the early stages (ie from 22 March) only about 1000 are receiving a supply. You can theoretically find out which GP closest to you will be giving these, through the National online booking system, although despite it being called a “booking system” what it actually does is give you the contact details for the GPs in your location. You are then left to make contact yourself.

But before you pick up the phone please understand this:

Each General Practice on the Gold Coast is allocated a limited supply (50 – 400/week) of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccines. They have strict criteria to follow when giving them, starting with prioritising people who fall into category 1b.
Note that those in category 1a receive Pfizer vaccines which will continue to be given through workplaces and aged care facilities, not through General Practice.

It will likely take months at this rate to vaccinate our Gold Coast community. Unfortunately, there just isn’t the supply of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines in the country right now to do this any faster. Until local manufacturing ramps up we only have what we’ve imported (currently 300,000 doses despite the hope for 3.8 million by now). This won’t even cover all in category 1b.

One positive aspect to this slow start is that GPs can absorb giving the vaccines into their normal workflow. Remember that most General Practices are small, privately owned businesses that want to continue to provide their existing services as well as give the vaccinations. There is time to get systems and processes in place, so that when larger volumes of local supply become available, they can smoothly ramp up to larger numbers.

The overarching message to our population is to look on this as a marathon not a sprint. Be patient, and your time will come!

Contrast this to the influenza vaccine where there are millions of doses readily available, and able to be given without needing allocation to the most vulnerable as a strict priority.

You don’t need any extra GP appointments before you have the Covid vaccine!

The good news is that you can be given your Covid vaccine by any GP practice approved to give them, as long as you are eligible, and have consented to have it. Even if the GP giving the Covid vaccine is not your usual GP, you do NOT need any extra appointments (e.g. for them to collect your medical history). On the other hand if you WANT to make an appointment to discuss your medical history in advance you may do so.

Here is how it should work:

Before you are given a Covid vaccine you need to consent to it, verbally or in writing. A standard consent form lists medical conditions and risks that you should consider, and is available in multiple languages. Many practices will email these in advance, have it on their website, and/or have hard copies on site.

If, while reading the consent form, you realise that you have questions or concerns, instead of booking to have the vaccine you should book for an appointment with your GP, or the GP who will give you the vaccine, to discuss it further with them. A useful blog to help you get vaccine ready, written by GPs, can be found here.

Once you are eligible and also sure you want the vaccine, you can book with a GP that has a supply. It would be best to check their website BEFORE calling them to see what their preferred ways of making bookings are. Remember every practice has different systems and workflows, so please help them by following their suggestions. And please be patient with receptionists who are trying to juggle this increased workload!

You cannot be given the Covid and flu vaccines on the same day.

This is very important to understand, so you don’t get frustrated when you book for one vaccine and cannot be given both. The current recommendations are that you wait 2 weeks between them. For example, if you have the influenza vaccine today, you need to wait 14 days before you can have your Covid one. And vice-versa.

It’s likely safe to have them both together, however they haven’t been tested that way, hence this advice. Also, if you happen to get a reaction to one of them, you will know which one you reacted to!
My personal recommendation would be to have the Covid vaccine right now (if eligible), because it is currently being rationed out. Then 14 days later have your flu vaccine which is more widely available.

Racing out to get your influenza vaccine right now is not necessarily the best idea!

This may sound illogical as we have just discussed how there are ample flu vaccines, and you need to ensure 14 days between the flu and Covid vaccines.

However the flu vaccine needs to be given at the right time in the year to give you the best protection. If you get it too early, it will be wearing off around the time that influenza peaks! Peak flu cases are usually around August so it is best to get your vaccine once flu season actually starts, which can vary each year but usually is late April/early May ( ). You also need the right type of flu vaccine for your age group. These points are taken into consideration by GPs when they run flu vaccine clinics, and this is why you may not see flu vaccine clinics started for a while even though influenza vaccines are now available.

Thankfully we have such low rates of Covid in the community that we do have time as a nation to get both Covid and flu vaccines done in an orderly manner, and if you have questions you can take your time to discuss and decide.