Millennials are turning up to vaccine hubs to get the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine not being taken up by those over 50, as demand at Australia’s mass vaccination centres has not been as high as expected.
A nurse at a Victorian vaccination hub who the Guardian spoke to earlier this week said she had delivered just one shot in an eight-hour shift. It was so slow staff had begun accepting walk-ins, even from those not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.
Jacob Holman is 31 and not in one of the eligible phases but after seeing the Guardian’s article he went to the hub in Carlton, in Melbourne’s inner north, on Thursday to see if he could get the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I walked in and spoke to the receptionist and explained my situation. I said: ‘Look I’m not eligible, I’m in phase 2B, but I’ve heard that you’re accepting walk-ins not strictly eligible,’ and she said: ‘Oh yeah, that’s fine,’ and just waved me through.”
There were very few people at the centre, and most were decades older than him. Holman explained his situation a number of times to the staff because he wanted to be upfront and not seem like he was “scamming”, but was ultimately given the jab. After 45 minutes, including 15 waiting after the shot, he had his first dose.
Sarah Moran, the chief executive of the Geek Girl Academy, is also in phase 2B, and also went to the Carlton hub on Thursday after hearing she could walk in.
“I’m not jumping the queue because there’s no queue,” she said.
She went through a similar process, and after explaining she wanted to resume IVF, and wanted to get vaccinated before getting pregnant, she was waved through.
“[The receptionist] said: ‘Hang on, I’ll go and speak to the nurse,’ and she came back and said yes, and I burst into tears.”
Guardian Australia has heard mixed reports of ineligible people being able to get vaccines from hubs across Australia. The medical advice is that AstraZeneca should be given only to those aged 50 and over. Those under 50 should get the Pfizer vaccine due to the risk of blood clots from AstraZeneca.
Holman and Moran were philosophical about their decision to get the AZ shot.
“It’s a massive stress relief,” Moran said. “I don’t feel any symptoms or anything like that, but I think it’s probably counteracted by the fact that I have a heck of a lot of adrenaline and serotonin and hope that after this past year I can relax a little.
“Why would I risk not getting vaccinated as soon as I can? It’s ridiculous.”
Holman said: “I just weighed it up – the odds of [a blood clot] are very, very low. And I’ve taken bigger risks with my health in the past. I could go out and walk across the road and I could get hit by a car.
“I understand people saying [they’d] rather wait for the Pfizer vaccine but for me personally the vaccine that I can get now is better than the vaccine that I might potentially get months from now.”
Moran was frustrated there was an oversupply in the city hubs, while her mother in Lismore, in New South Wales, is eligible to get the vaccine but cannot get a booking.
The number of Australians being vaccinated continues to grow, but in Victoria at least there has not been a rush. NSW is now allowing people aged between 40 and 49 to be vaccinated at its hubs.
Prof Catherine Bennett, head of epidemiology at Deakin University, said hesitancy around the vaccine was only part of the reason why the take-up at the hubs had slowed. She said people aged 50 and over still wanted to get the vaccine from their GP, where there was the most demand.
“Ironically we have a short supply [with GPs] because we were anticipating more people going to the hubs or respiratory clinics,” she said.
GPs have expressed frustration at being unable to secure enough doses while hubs have an oversupply, and Bennett said supply could be redirected to GPs where possible. When the Pfizer supply arrived, the mass vaccination hubs could open up to the younger age groups as long as it didn’t compromise supply for the groups currently eligible.
Prime minister Scott Morrison defended the government’s communications strategy for the vaccine after the health minister, Greg Hunt, backtracked comments suggesting people over 50 who were concerned about AstraZeneca could wait for Pfizer.
On Friday Morrison said older Australians, including those 70 and over, should get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“I would encourage families to have that discussion with their elderly parents, or those that they know, and encourage them to go and get that vaccination booked in,” he said.
Bennett warned Australia could soon follow Taiwan and have a major outbreak if people held off on vaccination.
“The longer we push back getting to a level of immunity among the population that helps contain any outbreak, no matter how quickly it gets triggered, then that is a risk for us,” she said.
The federal health department said there was no problem if people get vaccinated early if the supply would otherwise go to waste.
“All clinics participating in the rollout are encouraged to minimise wastage of doses and have strategies in place such as waiting lists for individuals who can attend the clinic at short notice,” it said. “Where this is not possible, clinics are encouraged to vaccinate consenting adults to minimise wastage.”
The Victorian health department did not comment by deadline, but said on Wednesday it was normal that some vaccination hubs would be quieter than others, and that “tens of thousands of people are now attending our vaccination centres every week”.
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