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  1. Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October Key points: Prime Minister says it has been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines to Australia He has announced an additional $1.1b for the nation's COVID-19 response The government has set up a website in the hope of stopping misinformation about the vaccine Nearly 160,000 people have now had a COVID-19 vaccination, including the Prime Minister who received his second Pfizer dose on Sunday. However, the figure is well below what the federal government had hoped to achieve, with a target of inoculating 4 million people initially set for early April. Scott Morrison has blamed international supply issues but is hopeful vaccination rates will ramp up in the coming weeks. "The critical factor in controlling the pace of the vaccination program is the supply and production of vaccines — that is the critical swing factor," he said "In these early phases, that has obviously been impacted by the fact that we had anticipated to have some 3.8 million vaccines imported from overseas. That's been 700,000." Australia's vaccination figures as of March 12.(Supplied: Australian Government) Italy recently blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines destined for Australia and Mr Morrison said it had been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines here, given ongoing international issues. Look back on all the coronavirus news from Sunday in our blog. Biotech company CSL has been tasked with manufacturing more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia to ensure the rollout is less reliant on imports. Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said discussions were underway with CSL to determine if it could "churn out" more than 1 million doses a week as currently planned. "We have lots of people who want to give more vaccines … the critical limitation at the moment is simply vaccine supply," he said. Professor Murphy also said the Health Department expected the Novavax vaccine to be made available later this year, but the department was "not counting on that in our vaccination strategy". Vaccination time line could change Professor Murphy said he was "pretty confident" most Australians would get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by October and a small proportion would have to get their second dose next year. However, he said if the supply of the vaccine ramped up, the end date could be brought forward. Questions about the time line of the rollout were raised on Thursday when a parliamentary hearing grilled Health Department staff about whether the targets could be met. The Prime Minister said he remained hopeful that most Australians could have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination by October but he insisted that could change. "Where we can boost supply, then it is potentially possible for us to bring forward, I think, the achievement of the first dose goal," he said. "Supply disruptions, unforeseen events, issues with logistics, major breakouts in our region — anything like this can, of course, impact on what we're talking about today. That is the nature of COVID-19. It writes its own rules." Extra money for COVID-19 support Speaking at a Sydney medical centre, Mr Morrison also announced an additional $1.1billion in funding for the nation's COVID-19 response. It includes extending until the end of June telehealth services and care, which were due to end in just a few weeks. The extra funding will also help cover the costs of testing and treating people with COVID-19, as well as providing financial assistance for electronic prescription services and delivering medication through the Home Medicine Services. The demand for mental health support is still high and some of the cash will be handed to Beyond Blue's Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service. Stopping the spread of misinformation In an attempt to ensure most Australians are on board with getting the jab, the Federal Government has set up a website to try to stop the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. There are more than a dozen questions listed on the Is it true website such as, "Do COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?". However, there are no questions about whether it is safe for pregnant women to get the jab, which has been a regular topic of conversation. Additional questions will be continually added to the website. Mr Morrison said the website would give some reassurance to Australians about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. "Don't go to Dr Google, don't go to Dr Facebook where everyone has an opinion but no-one has responsibility," he said. Mr Morrison also pointed to concerns that people were looking at information that was not relevant to the situation in Australia. "Go to the Australian information because there are different vaccination programs in different countries [and] they are in different pandemic situations than Australia," he said. Source: Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October
  2. Hunt for vaccine slots often leads through scheduling maze This image shows a message that appeared on the Massachusetts vaccine portal when it crashed in February. The COVID-19 vaccine deployment has exposed technology shortcomings across the nation’s fragmented public health systems. (AP Photo) PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The road to a COVID-19 shot often leads through a maze of scheduling systems: Some vaccine seekers spend days or weeks trying to book online appointments. Those who get a coveted slot can still be stymied by pages of forms or websites that slow to a crawl and crash. The technological obstacles are familiar to L. Shapley Bassen, a 74-year-old retired English teacher and editor in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. She lost track of the hours she spent making phone calls and navigating websites to get appointments for herself and her 75-year-old husband, Michael. “A lot of us don’t sleep at night worrying about whether or not we’ll be able to get in,” Bassen said. Technological shortcomings across the nation’s fragmented public health system have frustrated millions of Americans trying to get shots and left officials without a full picture of who has been vaccinated. “We’re creating an unnecessary amount of human suffering. This could have been avoidable, and we could have done better,” said Tinglong Dai, a professor who studies health care operations at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School. The White House promised improvements, pledging to establish a new website and an 800-number by May 1 to help people find nearby locations with vaccines. “No more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones,” President Joe Biden said Thursday in a prime-time address to the nation. The administration also promised to send technical teams to states that need help improving their websites. The bottleneck in vaccine demand seems to be easing in some locations, and on Friday the U.S. surpassed 100 million doses administered. Nearly 66 million people have received at least one dose. But vaccine slots are sometimes still so hard to obtain that people resort to vaccine hunter Facebook groups and bots that scan sites for open appointments. Vaccine seekers who are not accustomed to those methods and don’t have anyone to help are at a steep disadvantage. Bassen finally landed a slot at a pharmacy near home for her husband. The website even offered to schedule the second dose, but when she clicked on it, nothing happened. Figuring it was a glitch, they printed out the appointment-confirmation email. When he arrived, he was rejected. They told him he had to schedule the second shot at the same time as the first. The rejection sent Bassen back down into the rabbit hole of state, local government and pharmacy websites and phone numbers. She likened it to a game of musical chairs. “From the point of view of the patient, the consumer, there seemed to be no continuity amongst these three entities,” Bassen said. The confusion isn’t surprising. An investigation by The Associated Press and Kaiser Health News found that since 2010, spending for state public health departments has dropped by 16% per capita, and spending for local health departments has fallen by 18%. Little money was left for investing in technology. To help states prepare for the rollout of COVID-19 shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began building a vaccine-management system known as VAMS. Many states were hesitant to commit because it takes time for employees to learn new programs, and new systems often have kinks. Few state health departments adopted the CDC program, and at least one has since decided to drop it. In New Hampshire, officials planned to switch to their own program after thousands of people were unable to schedule second shots within the recommended time frame. Others had their appointments canceled after the system mistakenly allowed them to book slots for which they were not eligible. Coming up with a national program that worked well everywhere was never likely to happen, especially given the unprecedented scale of tracking COVID-19 vaccinations, said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. Prior to the pandemic, local vaccine registries around the country were used mostly to track childhood vaccines. Some are decades old and were never meant to be used to schedule appointments. “A lot of them are just sort of that spaghetti bowl of code, where you just keep adding on,” said Rebecca Coyle, executive director of the American Immunization Registry Association. Many vaccine providers such as smaller pharmacies also were not hooked up to the registries before the pandemic because of the time and cost of doing so — including the required maintenance, which involves constantly uploading data and ensuring it’s properly stored and shared. “There’s always been this perception that you build it and you’re done,” Coyle said. Many states have concluded that they need a single, easy-to-access “front door” for scheduling shots, Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of Connecticut’s health department, noted during a recent CDC forum. The best system, Dai said, would be to send everyone to register in a central location and, based on supply, give each person a reasonable estimate for receiving a vaccine. That could be a few weeks or months away, but managing expectations would ease some anxiety. “The core idea is to give people the confidence, give people reassurance,” Dai said. West Virginia has nearly done that with a one-stop statewide preregistration system that uses crisis-management software to collect every person’s demographic and contact information, as well as details such as occupation, so certain critical workers can be targeted. Then, they get a text or phone call to book a slot when vaccine doses are available in their county, said Krista D. Capehart, who coordinates the state’s pharmacy response. Other states have struggled with their vaccine websites, or designed sites that give some help, but make people do a lot of work to find available shots. The Massachusetts site was so overwhelmed that it crashed. Washington state’s site lets people print a piece of paper saying they are eligible, but finding and booking an appointment is still left to the individual. Maryland established a preregistration portal, but people still need to go to other websites to find a slot. Dai said even he has struggled after becoming eligible and preregistering with his county. When he was invited to schedule an appointment, the link did not work. “By the end of yesterday, I had received five links, but none of them worked,” he said Thursday. He ended up booking on his own at Walgreens. Given the confusion, many worry about what will happen when eligibility opens to an even broader population. People could find it so difficult and time consuming to score a shot that they simply give up. “The situation will be even worse,” Dai said. The disease detectives who monitor the pandemic are also concerned about the lack of consistent data on vaccinations. “If we don’t have good systems to track the number and the type of people that are getting the vaccine, we may not actually be as efficient and effective as possible with the limited resource that we have,” said Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. Race and ethnicity data is only available for a little over half of the people who have received vaccines so far. That could be because vaccine recipients are not providing the information or because the places where they receive the shot are not collecting it, not entering it or entering it too slowly. In many cases, the data was entered, but glitches with different software systems cause those fields to disappear, said Dr. Marcus Plescia, of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, calls the vaccine rollout embarrassing. “If we would have fought World War II the way we’re doing this,” he said, “there’s no question that we would have lost.” Source: Hunt for vaccine slots often leads through scheduling maze
  3. UK vaccine roll-out speeds up but doctors want quicker second dose LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination push gathered pace on Saturday, with 5.9 million people now having had a first dose, but doctors challenged the government over its policy of delaying a second shot of the Pfizer vaccine for up to 12 weeks. FILE PHOTO: A medical worker holds a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inside a former nightclub that has been turned into a NHS vaccination centre, at Batchwood Hall in St Albans, Britain, January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Childs/File Photo The British government is stretching out the gap between first and second shots as it seeks to ensure as many people as possible can be given some protection from an initial vaccine dose. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Friday that the new UK variant of COVID-19 may be associated with a higher level of mortality as the country’s death tally from COVID-19 nears the 100,000 mark - hitting 97,329 on Saturday. But in a letter to Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England Chris Whitty, the British Medical Association said leaving the 12-week interval for the Pfizer vaccine went against World Health Organization guidance. They urged the government to reduce the gap between Pfizer doses to a maximum of six weeks. The makers of the vaccine, Pfizer and BioNTech, have warned that they have no evidence their vaccine would continue to be protective if the second dose is given more than three weeks after the first. Leaving a 12-week gap is allowing Britain’s vaccine programme to proceed quickly. Government data published on Saturday showed 5.86 million people have now received a first dose of the vaccine, after a record 478,248 people had the jab in the last 24 hours. Whitty said on Friday that the longer wait between doses was a “public health decision” aimed at vaccinating many more people and based on the fact that the great majority of protection comes from the first jab. The Department of Health and Social Care said the decision on the 12-week gap was made after “a thorough review of the data” and was in line with the recommendations of the UK’s four chief medical officers. Britain is using the Pfizer vaccine and another from AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca has supported the gap between its jabs, saying data showed an 8- to 12-week gap was a “sweet spot” for efficacy. Following Johnson’s warnings about the more deadly nature of the new variant, some scientists said on Saturday it was too soon to be clear about what the evidence was showing. “The question about whether it’s more dangerous in terms of mortality I think is still open,” Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC. Source: UK vaccine roll-out speeds up but doctors want quicker second dose
  4. COVID-19: UK vaccinating 200,000 people a day - health minister FILE PHOTO: A man receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a former nightclub that has been turned into a NHS vaccination centre for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Batchwood Hall in St Albans, Britain, January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Childs LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is vaccinating 200,00 people a day against COVID-19 and is on course to ramping up immunisations to 2 million a week, the rate needed to cover the most vulnerable by the middle of February, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday. “At the moment we’re running over 200,000 people being vaccinated every day,” he told Sophie Ridge on Sky News. “We’ve now vaccinated around a third of the over-80s in this country, so we are making significant progress, but there’s still further expansion to go. This week we are opening mass vaccination centres.” Source: COVID-19: UK vaccinating 200,000 people a day - health minister
  5. EXPLAINER: How do I know when to get my 2nd vaccine shot? FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020 file photo, a county health department worker fills out a vaccination record card before administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa. The first coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. require two shots taken weeks apart, and you'll be given a record card so you know when to go back for the second dose. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) NEW YORK (AP) — As U.S. health officials try to get COVID-19 vaccines to people more quickly, it’s already time for some people to get their second shots. So who’s keeping track to make sure you get the correct second dose, and on time? And who can see that information? It’s one of the many logistical issues health officials have been sorting out to pull off the country’s largest vaccination campaign. The first COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. require two doses taken weeks apart. Other vaccines in the pipeline might not require two doses, but the record keeping for those would work the same way. Here’s a look at how vaccinations are being tracked. WHAT’S NEEDED FOR MY FIRST SHOT? Once vaccines become widely available in coming months, the pharmacy, health clinic or doctor’s office where you get your shot will ask for basic information, such as your name, date of birth and gender. You might also be asked for other information, such as your race and any health condition that could put you at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19. But exactly what you’re asked about will vary depending on where you go. The shots are free, but you’ll likely be asked for your insurance information if you have it. WILL I GET A REMINDER FOR THE SECOND SHOT? You’ll get a vaccination record card that says when and where you got your first shot, and what kind it was. Pharmacies, clinics and doctor’s offices will also likely send reminders, including by text, email or phone. The timing doesn’t have to be exact. The Pfizer doses are supposed to be three weeks apart, and the Moderna doses four weeks apart. But the CDC notes that doses given within four days of those milestones are fine. WILL THERE BE A RECORD OF MY VACCINATION? Providers should have a record of your vaccination in their systems. They’ll also be entering the information into existing state or local immunization registries, which are used to record childhood and other vaccinations. That will include details like which vaccine you got, and when. So if you go to a pharmacy in another part of town for your second shot, they should be able to look up the details of your first. To give health officials a national picture of vaccination efforts, those local registries will also be feeding information to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WHAT IS BEING SHARED WITH THE CDC? That’s been a sticking point. The CDC wanted information including names, dates of birth and gender of people vaccinated from local health officials. But many states pushed back, citing privacy concerns, and were still hammering out their data-sharing agreements with the CDC in the final weeks before the first vaccine shipments went out. Jon Reid, manager of the vaccine registry in Utah, said he expected most states to send data with personal information removed. But exactly what’s shared could vary. “We have our own state laws that we need to be consistent with,” said Kevin Klein, director of Colorado’s division of homeland security and emergency management. Philadelphia said it agreed to report ages, for example, but not birth dates or names. “We are going to send them what we think is appropriate,” said Aras Islam, manager of the city’s vaccine registry. But he said he expects to hear back from the CDC on the issue as vaccinations expand. The CDC had also wanted information on people’s race and ethnicity. But some providers aren’t set up to collect that information and the information isn’t required, said Mitchel Rothholz of the American Pharmacists Association. Philadelphia says it’s asking providers to enter data on race and ethnicity if they can, and sharing that with the CDC. The city says about 80% of cases so far include that information and that the percentage is expected to climb. WHY DOES THE CDC WANT MY VACCINATION INFORMATION? Federal officials say they need data to track vaccination efforts nationally and to identify regions or groups that might need more shipments. To do that, the CDC says it will feed data without identifying details into a program called Tiberius, which is made by Palantir and is also being used to track COVID-19 hospitalizations under a different name. It’s not yet clear what insights the program will be able to offer, given the changes states made to their data use agreements. “There will be some data variability, and we’re working through that analysis right now,” Col. R.J. Mikesh, the technology lead for the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine development push, said previously. HHS officials haven’t detailed what information they plan to make public, and when. HOW WILL DATA BE PROTECTED? Vaccination information from states and cities will go into a CDC data repository called the COVID-19 Clearinghouse, which will “encrypt and store” the information, according to a data agreement sent to states. The agreement says the CDC will “take all reasonable measures to secure” the data, and that the agency wouldn’t be able to access any personally identifiable information without the permission of local jurisdictions. Federal health officials have said the data could also be useful if people happen to be in another part of the country for the second shot. But without more details on how data might be secured, Islam in Philadelphia said the city opted to share information without any identifying information. Source: EXPLAINER: How do I know when to get my 2nd vaccine shot?
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