General practitioners and pharmacists will receive an extra $10 for each booster jab under an additional $120 million in funding as Australia’s latest vaccine rollout ramps up.
The package aims to give GPs and pharmacies greater flexibility to run vaccine clinics and ensure they’re adequately staffed. It also includes free rapid antigen tests for residential aged care facilities.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was important the country kept up with the demand for booster shots, with millions of people becoming eligible after a quarter of state and territory run vaccination hubs closed.
“This is an added incentive to keep the primary care system delivering vaccines at as great a capacity as we possibly can,” he said.
GPs currently receive between $65 and $75 for delivering a client with two jabs.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said the additional funding would help GPs and pharmacies ramp up the number of booster doses being administered.
“This will enable GPs to reach out to patients, to run larger clinics and hold more vaccination sessions to meet demand,” he said.
But Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Dr Karen Price approached the announcement cautiously.
She said practices are under the pump and will soon face the challenge of vaccinating children aged between five to 11.
“I want to stress that this is not a panacea; it won’t solve every problem in front of us,” she said.
“I will always welcome more support for general practice but we need to remember that many practices are operating on wafer thin margins, and some are actually losing money on the vaccine rollout.”
More than half of booster-eligible Australians have received their third COVID-19 vaccine.
About 200,000 doses go into arms each day, with roughly three in four of those shots being boosters.
But the prime minister wants to see this increase to more than two million doses per week early in the new year.
Head of the vaccine rollout Lieutenant General John Frewen said there is enough supply to cover Australians until the end of April 2022.
Meanwhile, national cabinet was told by health experts on Wednesday that mask wearing was “highly recommended”, but Mr Morrison ruled out any mandates.
“Australians are common sense people and they know what they need to do to protect their own health,” he said.
“Mandates require enforcement and that requires resources.”
National cabinet also discussed shortening the timeframe for booster shots and an updated definition of fully vaccinated from two doses to three, but no decisions were made on either item.
State and territory leaders will be updated again in two weeks time about whether testing for travel was needed, with travellers making up a quarter of testing requirements, stretching out waiting times.
Mr Morrison said one in every thousand people being tested for travel purposes returned a positive result compared to between 17 and 20 people for every thousand tests on close contacts and those with symptoms.
“That gives you an idea of where the resources are best applied,” he said.
National cabinet will also be provided with a standard definition of a casual contact when it meets again in the new year.
“There is even an argument which says there shouldn’t be any requirement to have a casual contact definition at all,” Mr Morrison said.
The announcements out of national cabinet followed a spike in the number of daily infections in NSW, which recorded 3763 new cases and two more deaths.
Victoria recorded 1503 new cases and six additional deaths.
Both Queensland and the ACT recorded daily case highs of 186 and 58, respectively. Tasmania notched up 12 more cases.
South Australia recorded 198 new infections.