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Optometrists to Start Receiving COVID Vaccine

Health care workers, including optometrists, will be second in line for the COVID-19 vaccination, expected to roll out from 22 March.

Optometry Australia’s General Manager, Policy, Skye Cappuccio said “The Commonwealth Government has announced that ‘other health care workers’ – those who are not working on the ‘frontline’ – will be amongst the second tranche of the first phase of people to receive vaccinations.”

Phase 1a vaccination is currently underway and includes optometrists who routinely provide care in aged care and disability care settings.

Others to be vaccinated in this group include onsite administrative staff and other ancillary staff in healthcare settings. Optometry Australia is seeking clarification on whether this includes optometry practice staff.

AHPRA and the National Boards released a joint position statement on Tuesday “strongly encouraging all registered health practitioners and students (particularly those undertaking placements in various practice settings) to have the full COVID-19 vaccination course as scheduled unless medically contraindicated.”

The statement advises that optometrists will need to actively seek vaccination and prove that they are optometrists.

Phase 1a vaccination is currently underway and includes optometrists who routinely provide care in aged care and disability care settings.

Information from the Department of Health states those included in Phase 1b are ‘health care workers currently employed and not included in phase 1a’ including:

  • Health care workers in private practice,
  • Individuals employed in the medical profession, including allied health professionals, aged care and disability workers,
  • All public and private hospital staff,
  • Health care workers providing in-home and community care, including centre-based care.,
  • Workforce supporting medical practitioners in a clinical setting, including medical and tertiary students with placements in these healthcare settings, and
  • Community pharmacy staff.

The information states that these vaccinations will take place at Phase 1b sites by appointment or Pfizer hubs and health care workers will need proof of occupation (including an ID card or letter from their employer) to demonstrate eligibility.

GP Practices and Respiratory Clinics to Administer Vaccine

More than 4,000 accredited general practices will participate in phase 1b of the roll-out, Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt announced on 7 March.

“More than 1,000 general practices will commence from the week of 22 March 2021, with a rapid scale up over the following four weeks. This will ensure an efficient and equitable distribution of vaccines across the country,” Minister Hunt said.

The staged commencement of general practices will be complemented by GP-led Respiratory Clinics and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services working together to deliver vaccines to eligible priority populations.

Nationally, more than 130 Respiratory Clinics and over 300 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service sites will support the phase 1b roll-out. This adds to more than 5,000 points of presence across Australia in addition to vaccination clinics set up by states and territories.

Health care workers being vaccinated in phase 1b will be part of a group to receive 14.8 million doses including people aged in their 70s and 80s (who are not aged or disability care residents), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People aged over 50, people over age 18 with an underlying medical condition including disability, and critical and high-risk workers currently employed including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing workers.

Get Ready For Your Vaccine

The Australian Government provides the below advice to ‘Get ready for your COVID-19 vaccinations – Services Australia’. There are three steps you can take now to get ready:

  • Create a myGov accountand link Medicare,
  • Check your contact details for Medicare are up to date. You can view and update your contact details using your Medicare online account or the Express Plus Medicare app. Sign into your account through myGov or the app and select personal details, and
  • View your immunisation history statement.

Watch a video at this link on how to get ready for the rollout.

Proof of Your Vaccination

Your immunisation history statement will record your COVID-19 vaccines. You can use this as proof of your COVID-19 vaccination status. You can obtain your immunisation history statement using your Medicare online account through myGov or the Express Plus Medicare mobile app.

If you’re not eligible for Medicare you can still get the COVID-19 vaccine. You can request an Individual Healthcare Identifier to get an immunisation summary through My Health Record.

Frequently Asked Questions

Australia’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Professor Alison McMillan, answers the top three questions (below) the public has been asking recently about the vaccination on the government’s social accounts, in this video available on the Government website: https://www.health.gov.au/news/top-3-covid-19-vaccine-questions-vaccine-administration-process-face-masks-and-breastfeeding.

  1. What is the process of administering the COVID-19 vaccines?

The vaccine is an injection in your arm. When your appointment time comes, take photo ID with you if you have it, a Medicare card, information about the medications you take, anything about your particular health issues, whether you’ve got a bleeding disorder or other information you feel is important. The health professional who does your vaccine will do a consent form and check these things. It is really important if you’ve got any history of anaphylaxis or an allergic reaction to a vaccine, you must tell the health professional; it won’t stop you from getting the vaccine, but they can take additional measures to protect you. If you have had other vaccines in recent weeks you must tell them what you’ve had so they can prepare you appropriately for your vaccine.

  1. Will I still need to wear a face mask once I’ve received the vaccines?

The vaccine prevents severe disease and death. We are still learning how it affects the transmission of COVID between people. If you can’t socially distance, or particularly when travelling on public transport, even perhaps where in the place you live you are required to wear a mask, we encourage you to do so. It will help protect you and others from COVID, and it is those places where you cannot properly social distance.

  1. Is it safe to breastfeed once I’ve received the COVID-19 vaccines?

It is. It is important as you get your vaccine to tell the health professional that you are breastfeeding, but it is safe to you and your baby to have the vaccine and continue to breastfeed. We encourage as many women to breastfeed their babies as long as they can, due to the extra protection it provides for a range of conditions and diseases.

Priority Vaccination

Allied health professionals who routinely provide care in aged care and disability care settings qualify under phase 1a for priority vaccination along with nursing, personal care and other staff in these settings.

Others receiving vaccination under Phase 1a include quarantine and border workers, frontline health care workers (i.e. those working directly with COVID-19 positive patients or potential patients) in hospitals and respiratory clinics and GP respiratory clinics, ambulance officers and paramedics, some laboratory staff, and staff and contractors working in residential aged care facilities and disability group home settings.

On Monday, March 8 the Department of Health also uploaded on its website a vaccine eligibility checker for individuals to see when they can book a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccines will be available to different groups in Phase 1a, Phase 1b, Phase 2a, Phase 2b and Phase 3 at different times.

Everyone in Australia will be offered a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. Australia now has two approved for use from AstraZeneca and Pfizer. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been provisionally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for people 16 years and older and the AstraZeneca vaccine has been provisionally approved by the TGA for people 18 years and older.

Vaccinations, Laws and the Workplace

Many employers are seeking clarity on whether they can require their employees to obtain the COVID vaccine. The answer, according to Optometry Australia’s lawyers, Industry Legal Group, is currently that it depends on the facts, taking into account the particular workplace and each employee’s individual circumstances.

While the Australian Government aims to have as many Australians as possible vaccinated, receiving a vaccination is currently voluntary. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman there are relevant factors employers should consider when determining whether they may require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

AHPRA’s Statement

“As health practitioners and students are members of the general community, vaccination will contribute to achieving the highest possible level of immunity across the community, and will provide practitioners and students with a level of protection for their own health if exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“Regardless of their own vaccination status, health practitioners must ensure that there are appropriate measures in place in their practice to manage any risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 to patients, colleagues and the community.

“In the case of a conscientious objection about receiving, authorising, prescribing or administering COVID-19 vaccination, practitioners must inform their employer and/or other relevant colleagues (where necessary) of their objection as soon as reasonably practical.

“For example, a practitioner’s personal beliefs may form the basis of a conscientious objection to particular treatments. In addition to the above, it is important that practitioners inform their patient or client of their conscientious objection where relevant to the patient or client’s treatment or care.

“While some health practitioners may have a conscientious objection to COVID-19 vaccination, all practitioners, including students on placement, must comply with local employer, health service or health department policies, procedures and guidelines relating to COVID-19 vaccination.”

The AHPRA statement also warns “any promotion of anti-vaccination statements or health advice which contradicts the best available scientific evidence or seeks to actively undermine the national immunisation campaign (including via social media) is not supported by National Boards and may be in breach of the codes of conduct and subject to investigation and possible regulatory action.”

Adapted and published with permission of Optometry Australia.