Australian government's Covid vaccine booking website hit by technical trouble at launch

In five days, more than 6 million Australians will be eligible for a Covid vaccine, but reports abound of problems booking in

The government’s vaccine booking website has been hit by technical issues hours after it was launched on Wednesday morning – five days before more than 6 million Australians become eligible to get the inoculation from GPs and local clinics.

Australians eligible under phase 1b of the rollout – due to begin Monday and include people aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55, healthcare workers not covered in phase 1a and adults with underlying medical conditions – can now use the Department of Health’s eligibility tool to book an appointment at their closest GP.

However several users received errors when attempting to click through to make a booking, while others were refused bookings from their closest clinics.

Several eligible vaccine recipients have also told the Guardian that after the booking website told them to call their nearest vaccinating clinic to book an appointment, receptionists had told them they could not take any bookings as they has not yet been told by the government how many doses they would be receiving.

The Guardian also understands MPs have begun fielding complaints from constituents attempting to book through the website, as many of the clinics listed will only accept bookings from existing patients.

The booking website’s launch follows criticism from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Medical Association, who were concerned that doctors had been left “ill-equipped” for the vaccine delivery, and that clinics might have to reject requests for appointments in the first weeks of phase 1b.

This is because so few doses have been provided to individual GPs that they would probably be limited to providing it to their oldest and most at-risk patients, rather than accepting appointments from new patients whose GPs are not participating in the initial rollout.

The Department of Health has been contacted for clarification.

Victorian resident Daniel, who asked that his surname not be used, is high risk for Covid-19 due to pre-existing medical issues.

He checked his eligibility for stage 1b using the government’s online tool and was given a list of local GP clinics participating in the vaccine rollout.

But when he began calling the clinics, he said they refused to accept his booking. The clinics he spoke to said they were only administering the vaccine to existing patients, not new ones.

“They said ‘we’re just not accepting anyone from the public, the vaccine is only for our current clients’,” he said.

“I just spoke to the Covid hotline, the federal government’s 1800 number, and they just said ‘oh well there’s not much we can do about that’.”

Daniel had only just moved to a new home and doesn’t have a local GP yet.

He said the operator on the government hotline said he had received numerous similar reports of GP clinics declining bookings on Wednesday.

Another eligible 1b recipient said their closest clinic was listed on the booking website as only accepting bookings via phone, but when they called the clinic to book, the receptionist told them they were only taking Covid vaccine appointment via the government’s website.

The phase 1b rollout will include AstraZeneca vaccines, and from next week, vaccines produced in Melbourne by CSL are set to be distributed, after the government reaffirmed its support for the jab following an investigation into reports it causes blood clots.

Announcing the booking website’s launch, the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, acknowledged the number of available appointments would at first be limited.

“Appointments on the service finder will increase as general practices establish their systems and vaccine supply. More appointments will become available as more clinics come onboard,” Hunt said.

“There will be 6 million Australians in phase 1B, and not all will be able to be vaccinated immediately. We recognise that every Australian will have the opportunity to be vaccinated over the coming months and we thank you for your patience.”

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