While GPs and pharmacies are used to conducting the annual flu vaccinations, the COVID-19 program has sparked questions about whether they have enough staff and capacity to conduct millions of additional jabs this year.
The government sought expressions of interest from GPs last week and will open the same process for pharmacies on Monday, with the Pharmacy Guild saying many of its members would join the program.
Australians in residential aged care will receive care from medical staff who will travel to the centres to vaccinate residents, staff and volunteers.
Those aged 70 and over but not in aged care are expected to go to hospitals or GPs for their vaccinations, as most would for the annual flu shot. This includes people in retirement villages.
Pharmacies will join the program in the “phase 2a” stage which covers adults up to the age of 69.
Options for GPs and pharmacies include staying open at night or on weekends to make sure they can meet demand, although this is likely to increase the cost for the Commonwealth.
“We’re building the number of points of presence and where after-hours support is required in relation to the various contracts, then that’s provisioned for,” Mr Hunt said on Sunday.
George Tambassis, the president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, said the option for pharmacists to complete COVID-19 vaccinations “just made sense” because they had the required skills after years of completing flu jabs.
The federal government said Australia was “on track” to receive vaccines from major suppliers from late February and March, despite threats to the supplies from authorities in the European Union.
EU leaders gave themselves sweeping powers last week to block vaccine exports.
Mr Hunt said the government had spoken over the weekend to European Union representatives, Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
“Our advice is that our vaccine supply and guidance remains on track,” he said.
“The guidance from the EU is provisional and preliminary at this stage, so I will remain cautious, but that guidance is that the EU regulatory steps are not aimed at Australia, and not expected to affect Australia.
“There will be lots of ups and downs around the world. Global supply charges, there will be issues in the coming months, inevitably.”
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David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org