Albury GPs bin thousands of COVID vaccines amid slow booster uptake

Thousands of expired COVID vaccinations have been binned from a medical centre on the NSW-Victoria border as demand for booster doses wanes.

This is despite more than a third of eligible Australians still to receive a booster dose.

“To date we have thrown out about 1,000 doses of Pfizer and 1,000 doses of Moderna,” Albury-based GP Priya Kondappan said.

“There’s definitely been a lack of initiative and people coming forward for the booster.

“We have certainly seen very minimal uptake in people 30 years and below.”

Key points:

  • Medical clinics are binning thousands of booster vaccines amid slow uptake
  • Doctors want more messaging to prompt more people to get boosted ahead of winter
  • Victorian COVID vaccination data shows a significant drop in people getting third doses at state hubs

After months of working to secure the vaccines, Dr Kondappan admits it’s hard watching them being thrown away.

“Being an immigrant myself I wish we could offer these vaccines to countries where it’s more in need.”

A few streets away from Dr Kondappan’s Sarkon Medical Centre, staff at the iHealth Albury clinic started the week by binning out-of-date COVID vaccinations.

“It’s a terrible feeling for us doctors and nurses when we need to throw out these vaccinations, especially because we know that people need them, and it’s a real waste of resources,” GP Rebecca McGowan said.

Clinics cut, admin pressures rise

Over summer, many border clinics in the area faced huge demand as residents scrambled to get a coveted third dose of the COVID vaccination.

But now, lack of demand has lead to some vaccination clinics significantly cutting their hours.

The Sarkon clinic has cut back the operation of its vaccination hubs from five days a week to two.

Despite the reduced hours, the clinic’s appointment books and walk-in slots are far from capacity.

“It’s not just in Albury-Wodonga. I think it’s everywhere,” Dr Kondappan said.

“Most general practices have even stopped booster doses simply because it’s a waste of resources since the uptake has been so poor.”

“As soon as boosters opened and we had a lot of media interest around the boosters, we had a big influx. We had a six-week wait at one point in time,” iHealth Albury director and founder Ami Assigal said.

“Now, you can come in and see us (on the same day).

“We’ve got half a clinic … We really are going to be throwing out vaccines if we don’t have a full clinic.”

The iHealth medical administration teams has scrambled to put processes in place to better manage vaccine stocks.

“At the moment, my staff are trying their best to have a look at the [stock] levels and be prompted [by those]. We are trying to call our patients to see if they are taking up the vaccinations or whether they are choosing to hold back on them, and then order based on that,” Ms Assigal said.

“It means we can go to a six-week wait to not having enough, to then having appointments available and potentially wasting.

“It’s not good for anyone.”

More messaging ahead of winter

The GPs want to see targeted COVID booster messaging ahead of the colder months and flu season, especially for younger cohorts.

“We think the young groups — and that’s over the age of 16 — are becoming a bit complacent about it, people think we are over COVID,” Dr McGowan said.

“We don’t think it’s intentional.

“We think people have just got back to being busy, people are thinking COVID is over, and people are just forgetting to do it.”

Data from the Victorian government backs the wastage concerns from the border GPs.

Government figures show booster rates peaked in state vaccination centres in mid-January 2022, with more than 129,000 third doses administered the week of January 17.

Last week, that number had dropped to just 27,837 boosters administered at state vaccination centres. This was despite just 61 per cent of Victorians over the age of 18 having had three doses.

The data also showed more than 1.2 million first COVID vaccination doses were administered to people aged between 18 to 39 at Victorian vaccination centres, before dropping by two-thirds to just over 409,000 third boosters for that age group.

Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said the government was consistently working on booster messaging.

“We won’t rest until everyone that is eligible comes forward and gets that third-dose booster,” he said.

“That is what is going to keep us open and keep us safe, particularly as we move into the colder winter months.”

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