COVID-19: Latest news for general practices

This page is continually being added to and updated. We encourage health professionals to also view COVID-19 for Health Professionals.

COVID-19 Statistics for our region

29 July Update

COVID-19 in Our Region

Local COVID-19 cases in the Nepean Blue Mountains region (as at 8pm 28 July)Confirmed cases: 34 

  • Blue Mountains: Total Cases 2
  • Hawkesbury: Total Cases 6
  • Lithgow: Total Cases 0
  • Penrith: Total Cases 22. Unknown source 5.
Case numbers are taken from the latest totals available on the NSW Government website (4:40pm, 29 July). 

ALL LGAs in our region now have exposure sitesCheck the NSW Health website regularly for the latest information. Ensure you are checking for updated restrictions for your LGA daily on the NSW Government website.

ATAGI Update on Pfizer Timing (24 July)

The ATAGI statement on 24 July reinforced that all individuals 18 and over in greater Sydney should strongly consider getting any available vaccine including AstraZeneca. Additionally, spacing Pfizer to an interval of six weeks will allow limited supplies to be redirected to obtain protection in outbreak areas.

Vaccinating Practices in Our Region

In our region there are 86 general practices delivering COVID-19 vaccinations including:

  • 14 in Blue Mountains (7 delivering Pfizer)
  • 21 in Hawkesbury (9 delivering Pfizer)
  • in Lithgow (4 delivering Pfizer)
  • 45 are in Penrith (17 delivering Pfizer)

In addition, our three GP-led Respiratory Clinics in Hazelbrook, Penrith and Windsor deliver both vaccines.

26 July Update

We would like to say a big thank you to all our GPs, nurses and practice staff who have been working incredibly hard over this period to vaccinate our community. We appreciate that you are on the front line of community frustration over quickly changing recommendations, and your patience and care during this demanding period is invaluable.

Pfizer TGA Safety Information Updated

The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) has amended the Pfizer product information to include safety related information on myocarditis and pericarditis. Very rare cases of myocarditis and pericarditis have been observed following vaccination with Pfizer. These cases have primarily occurred within 14 days following vaccination, more often after the second vaccination, and more often in younger men. For more information visit the TGA website

ATAGI Updates on TTS (Published 23 July)

Advice from ATAGI regarding AstraZeneca vaccine safety has been updated to include further details regarding Thrombosis and Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS) rates in Australia and overseas. Although estimates of risk based on small numbers of cases are imprecise, the risk of TTS is estimated in Australia at around 2.7 per 100,000 in those under 60 years and 1.6 per 100,000 in those 60 years and over. 

Updated TTS Pathways

HealthPathways has recently published updates to the Vaccine-induced Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS) pathway. The COVID-19 Vaccination suite is frequently updated with the latest advice from the Department of Health, TGA, and ATAGI. 

If you need the login details for HealthPathways refer to our HealthPathways reminder email, sent on the 1st of each month, or request access details online.

Updated Consent Form (23 July)

The Department of Health has recently updated the COVID-19 vaccination Consent form.

TGA Expanded Age Range Approval

The TGA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in individuals aged 12 years and older. Their previous recommendation (Jan 2021) was for use in individuals over 16 years of age. 

NCIRS Vaccination Resources

The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NSCIRS) has created a webpage for vaccination providers which has all of the current vaccination advice in one place broken down with clear headings and related resources. NCIRS also has a regularly updated COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ section

21 July Update

Vaccination Eligibility Criteria

Summarised AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccination eligibility for various age groups is available on our website. This includes details on Pfizer eligibility for patients over 60 years, and the referral process for these patients.

Registered Nurses Needed for Vaccinations

We are seeking Registered Nurses who can spare additional time in their work week to help administer vaccinations in all areas of our region. Express your interest via our website.

Vaccinations for Pregnant Women

Pregnant women should be routinely offered Pfizer vaccinations at any stage of pregnancy. Pfizer is the preferred COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women, however those who received their first dose of AstraZeneca can receive either dose two of AstraZeneca or a Pfizer dose (although Pfizer is preferred). Further clinical considerations are available on the Department of Health website. HealthPathways will be updated with this information by Friday.

Our Region's RACF Vaccination Progress

To date all residents of residential aged care facilities (RACFs) in our region have received their first and second vaccination doses. 

COVID-19 Update from the Deputy CMO

On Thursday 22 July at 11:30am Prof Michael Kidd will hold a response update for GPs regarding the latest information on the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out. Prof Kidd will be joined by Dr Lucas de Toca and Professor Michael Nissen from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). 

19 July Update

New MBS Items for Telehealth

The Australian Government is extending telehealth consultations for people in COVID-19 hotspots. From 16 July 2021, new MBS telephone items 92746 and 92747 are available for GPs and other medical practitioners providing services to people in COVID-19 hotspots. The new items are for telephone consultations lasting 20 minutes or more.

QR Codes Mandatory in General Practice

We have confirmed that general practices are subject to the NSW mandatory QR codes that came into effect on 12 July. All practices must implement QR codes in addition to their other infection control procedures and all patients and visitors must sign in using the QR code.

COVID-19 Webinar Recordings

Upcoming COVID-19 Webinars

Updated Patient Resources

The Department of Health COVID-19 vaccines - Is it true? provides information to address common patient concerns. This resource includes evidence-based responses to a broad range of questions for example:

Answers are available in 63 languages.

15 July Update

Hawkesbury Showground Testing Site Open

The Hawkesbury Showground drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic has been reinstated and will be operational from 1pm today. The clinic will be open seven days from 8am to 4:30pm. A full list of testing locations is available on our website, or the NSW Health website.

Infection Control Procedures and PPE

There have been a number COVID-19 cases presenting at GP practices in South Western Sydney. As the Delta variant is more infectious, we recommend practices consider their screening process for patients prior to their admittance to the waiting room. NSW Government QR codes are now mandatoryAppropriate PPE should be used for face-to-face appointments in addition to normal infection control procedures such as hand hygiene and social distancing. A mask should be used at minimum, with the addition of gloves, gowns and face shields as appropriate, particularly in high community transmission areas. The Department of Health is making PPE such as masks, gloves, gowns and goggles available through PHNs. Requests for masks and PPE can be made on our website.

Over 60's Requesting Pfizer Vaccinations 

AstraZeneca Vaccine is the preferred vaccine for those over 60 years of age.  Pfizer vaccinations are only available to people over 60 if they meet the ATAGI criteria for Pfizer. GPs can refer patients who they believe meet these criteria directly to the NBMLHD Vaccination Hub. The referral form and details on how you can refer your patient to the NBMLHD Vaccination Hub are also available on HealthPathways, under the COVID-19 Referrals, then the Vaccination drop down menu.

The NBMLHD Vaccination Hub will forward this referral to the State Health Emergency Operations Centre (SHEOC) for approval. If the referral meets the ATAGI criteria, the NBMLHD Vaccination Hub will contact the patient to make a booking. If the referral does not meet the ATAGI criteria, the patient is unable to access the Pfizer vaccination. 

13 July Update

ATAGI Statement on Vaccines in an Outbreak

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has released a statement today which addresses the benefits versus risks of the use of AstraZeneca in adults under 60 years given the current COVID-19 outbreak involving the Delta variant:

  • ATAGI reinforces that the the benefits of vaccination with AstraZeneca strongly outweigh the risk in those 60 years and over, and that vaccination is essential for this group in the context of an outbreak. 
  • In the context of a COVID-19 outbreak, patients under 60 years who do not have immediate access to Pfizer, should reassess the benefits from being vaccinated with AstraZeneca, versus the rare risk of a serious side effect.
  • Any additional unallocated supplies of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca should be prioritised to populations and areas of greatest risk of COVID-19, and every effort should be made to vaccinate vulnerable populations and those in priority groups. 

Additionally this statement contains updated advice regarding the optimal interval between the two doses of AstraZeneca in an outbreak setting:

  • The preferred interval between the first and second dose of AstraZeneca remains 12 weeks during non-outbreak settings, however an interval of between four and eight weeks is preferred in an outbreak situation
  • Recommendations for Pfizer timing during an outbreak remain unchanged from three to six weeks.

Updated TTS in Primary Care Factsheet 

The Department of Health has released an updated factsheet (13 July) which outlines the primary care approach to identifying, diagnosing and treating thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome which can occur after AstraZeneca vaccination

12 July Update

AstraZeneca Second Dose Timing

Due to the current outbreak, NSW Health and RACGP have recommended a six week gap between the first and second vaccine dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Greater Sydney with a minimum of four weeks to be considered in hotspot areas with high community transmission such as in South West Sydney. 

In relation to comments made by Dr Kerry Chant this morning, regarding AstraZeneca vaccinations for patients over 40, the ATAGI advice remains that Pfizer is the preferred COVID-19 vaccine for patients 16-60 years of age. However, patients under 60 can access AstraZeneca vaccinations with informed consent. ATAGI emphasises that the risk-benefit document is an important resource to help patients make informed decisions regarding vaccination.

Appointments Required for Vaccination at the Nepean Hub

NBMLHD has advised that several patients have presented to the Nepean Vaccination Hub today without an appointment. It is a requirement that all patients book through the Eligibility Checker to secure a vaccination appointment. Anyone who does not have an appointment will be turned away.

Pfizer Vaccinations for Practice Staff

As part of Phase 1B, Pfizer vaccination appointments are available for GPs and practice staff in our region at the NBMLHD Vaccination Hub in Penrith through CoVax. Bookings are available via the Eligibility Checker for other vaccination locations. GP-led Respiratory Clinics will be delivering Pfizer as of 19 July and may have more appointments than other practices.

Telehealth Exemption for COVID Hot Spots 

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation there is a temporary exemption to the MBS telehealth items to allow GPs in identified COVID-19 hotspots to provide telehealth consultations to patients without the requirement of having seen the patient in the previous 12 months. This will allow practices to provide telehealth consultations to patients exhibiting respiratory symptoms.

COVID-19 Testing Options in Our Region

Practices should encourage all patients with respiratory symptoms to get tested for COVID-19 before presenting to a practice or hospital service.

In addition to our GP-led Respiratory Clinics in Hazelbrook, Penrith and Windsor and testing offered by NBMLHD there are several free private testing options in our region. No booking or GP referral is required. For a full list of locations is available on our website, OR on the NSW Health website

Translated 'Stay At Home' Resources

The Department of Health has provided translations of recent stay at home imagery in over 52 languages, which are available online

8 July Update

TTS Webinar Available Online

Hunter New England and South Coast PHN have made their recent webinar, Thrombosis and Thrombocytopaenia (TTS) with COVID-19 Vaccine: A Pragmatic Approach, available online. This webinar provides case studies, clinical content, and advice for GPs when advising patients on the most appropriate vaccination for them.

6 July Update

NEW AEFI Reporting Form

NSW Health has released a new Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFI) reporting form designed to collect initial clinical information which will then be used to investigate the reported adverse event. These reports will be forwarded to the Therapeutics Goods Administration to support vaccine safety surveillance. This form is available through the COVID-19 Vaccination Information HealthPathway under NSW state guidance>Adverse events

Mandatory Vaccination for RACF Workers

The National Cabinet has endorsed the recommendation made by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all residential aged care workers. By mid-September 2021 all residential aged care workers must have received their first vaccine dose. 

MBS Item for Vaccination Assessment

From 29 June age restrictions on the use of MBS items associated with COVID-19 patient assessment consultations (93624, 93625, 93634, 93635, 93644, 93645, 93653, 93654, 10660 and 10661) have been removed. Vaccinating GPs who provide in-depth clinical assessments of patients regarding individual risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination will be able to access certain MBS items regardless of the age of their patient. For more information visit the MBS website.

Resources for Vaccination Providers

The Department of Health has recently updated these resources for vaccination providers:

Vaccination Resources for Patients

The Department of Health has recently updated these patient vaccination resources to assist in decision-making around their vaccination:

1 July Update

MBS Telehealth Extended

Temporary MBS telehealth items, introduced to support patients accessing essential Medicare funded health services in their homes, have been extended until 31 December 2021. The Department of Health have released a factsheet to explain these changes in further detail. 

New Screening Advice for Health Facilities

Screening advice for healthcare facilities, residential aged and disability care facilities, and home care service providers have been recently updated in accordance with the latest COVID-19 outbreak:

If you are visiting any of these facilities, take note of these updated protocols. Please note this is for the information of general practices, it does not apply to general practices. 

Updated COVID-19 PIP Guidelines

The Department of Health has updated their Practice Incentives Program (PIP) COVID-19 vaccine general practice guidelines (1 July) for PIP approved general practices participating in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

30 June Update

Additional Pop-Up Testing Locations

Two new drive-through testing clinics in our region have been opened to support additional community testing:

  • St John’s Oval, Blaxland 7 days, 7:30am-3:30pm
    St John’s Road, Blaxland NSW 2774
  • Springwood Aquatic Centre 7 days, 8am-6pm
    11 Plateau Rd, Springwood NSW 2777
Both of these clinics are open from today and will be operating until further notice. These free testing clinics are operated by private providers. No booking or GP referral is required.

A testing clinic has also opened in Vineyard at 357 Windsor Road which is open Monday - Friday, 9am-5pm.

ATAGI Guidelines Regarding Vaccines

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) clinical guidelines regarding AstraZeneca and Pfizer age ranges remain unchangedAstraZeneca is still the preferred vaccine for those over 60, and Pfizer is still the preferred vaccine for those under 60 years of age. The recent announcement from The Prime Minster means that those between the ages of 18 and 39, who are unable to access Pfizer through Phase 1a or 1b of the vaccine roll-out, can now choose to access the AstraZeneca vaccine with informed consent through a discussion with their GP - noting that the preferred vaccine for this group in accordance with ATAG guidelines remains the Pfizer vaccine. 

Aged Care Residents: Updating Advanced Care Directives

We encourage GPs who provide clinical care in residential aged care facilities (RACFs) to update their residents' Advanced Care Directive to include a COVID-19 Outbreak Statement of Wishes to ensure this is up to date in the event of an outbreak in an RACF. This document is part of a 'Statement of Wishes' package available on our website, which provides templates to support GPs in having conversations with residents and their families about their wishes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccination Guidance during Lockdown

Vaccination is listed as a reasonable excuse to leave your home, however if patients have been to a venue of concern and are a close contact, they must not attend their appointment and must reschedule after their quarantine period. Casual contacts may attend a vaccination appointment if they have received a negative test result. 

29 June Update

Update Regarding the National Cabinet Meeting 28 June

Last night the National Cabinet announced that they would be introducing a new no fault indemnity scheme for GPs who administer COVID-19 vaccinations. The aim of this is to encourage patients who are happy to receive AstraZeneca to have discussions regarding vaccine choice with GPs, and potentially allow for the administration of AstraZeneca to patients under the age of 60 with informed consent. 

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