A large drive-through centre in Canberra could process 10,000 COVID-19 jabs a day, vastly speeding up the vaccination rollout in the territory, an international expert says.
Professor Sunderesh S. Heragu, who developed a drive-through vaccination clinic model during the swine flu pandemic more than a decade ago, said Canberra's entire adult population could receive its first COVID-19 vaccination doses in about a week if the territory ran multiple sites.
"You could do 10,000 per day per site, so depending on how many sites you set up, you could do multiples of that," Professor Heragu said.
Drive-through testing sites have formed a major part of Canberra's COVID-19 response, with the Exhibition Park site in Mitchell taking more than 62,000 samples in the first 11 months of the pandemic. It's understood the site could be quickly converted to offer vaccinations if needed.
Professor Heragu, the head of Oklahoma State University's school of industrial engineering and management, led the design of the world's largest drive-through vaccination clinic during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
He said drive-through clinics should not completely replace walk-up clinics but they could be run side by side.
"I'll give you the analogy of the assembly line: if you're making your run-of-the-mill cars ... you're making thousands of them, it's very effective, you just organise your line and process them through. Whereas if it's a custom car each time ... then maybe doing something different makes sense," Professor Heragu said.
"I think if there's going to be a higher throughput, larger volumes, there'd be quite a few benefits you can get through the drive-through option."
But the ACT government is not considering the plan, saying the proposal comes with safety and logistical concerns. Health officials believe it would be harder to ensure a safe injection technique and a secure environment to keep people under observation in drive-through clinics
A spokeswoman said the availability of vaccines, which are allocated by the federal government, was the biggest factor affecting the speed of the rollout locally.
"At this time, we are readily able to provide vaccinations in line with the allocated supply and we know these are being delivered in a safe and efficient manner. The ACT rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is going well," the spokeswoman said.
"We will continue to review and make adjustments as required to ensure the local population is being vaccinated as quickly as is reasonably practical.
"We remain committed to the use of the drive-through model for COVID-19 testing as it has proven to be a convenient, safe and effective way for large numbers of Canberrans to be tested. Both EPIC and Kambah drive-throughs will continue."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday announced Australia's COVID-19 vaccination rollout would need to include mass vaccination centres, to be established by the states and territories.
However, the federal government will not fund states and territories to create mass vaccination sites. The national cabinet will meet on Monday to discuss the matter.
"What I am quite confident of is that the states and the territories and the Commonwealth will just work together to get this done," Mr Morrison said on Thursday.
"That is what we did all through COVID last year, and that is what we will do with these challenges. This is just another set of challenges, we have problems to solve, we have national partnership agreements in place for vaccinations with the states and territories that deal with the distribution as we do have arrangements with the GPs and pharmacists and we will work with them to get the job done."
More than 60,000 people received a coronavirus vaccination in Australia in the 24 hours to Thursday afternoon, with 592 doses administered in the ACT.
Professor Heragu said central drive-through clinics could also be used in regional areas to vaccinate disparate populations in central areas, provided most residents had access to personal vehicles.
Drive-through coronavirus vaccinations are currently offered in the United States and United Kingdom, but the ACT is sticking to its planned mass vaccination centres at Garran and Calvary Hospital.
The swine flu pandemic clinic designed by Professor Heragu provided the flu vaccine to more than 19,000 residents of Louisville, Kentucky in a day and a half, with more than two-thirds of those processed in the drive-through section.
Professor Heragu said the clinic was set up in a university football stadium car park, with space for 10 lanes of cars. Four nurses were stationed on each lane.
"The idea is that when one car pulls up, the pod of two nurses, who are ready with their vaccines, will go to either side of the car and ask the passenger or the driver to roll down their window and off they go. And meanwhile, at that same time, the other set of nurse pods is actually readying up for the next car that's going to come after this car leaves," Professor Heragu said.
With enough vaccine supplies and units of 40 nurses to work four-hour shifts, the model can "easily" process 1000 vaccinations an hour, he said.
In 2009, patients had to fill out forms in their cars while they were in line to be vaccinated, but Professor Heragu said this could now be done digitally ahead of time, making the process on the ground more efficient.
After receiving the vaccine, drivers in 2009 were required to follow a "serpentine" exit path so they could be observed for adverse reactions.
"Let us say you're doing 1000 vaccines an hour, so that's roughly 500 cars. If you have space for 500 cars in an adjacent parking lot, then you could have them wait there and pull away after the 15 minutes is done," Professor Heragu said.
Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist at UNSW who advises the World Health Organization, said drive-through vaccination clinics were complicated and offered an extra layer of infection control Australia did not currently need.
"The reason you keep people in the car is to keep virus away from staff and to keep you in your cocooned area. At the moment, we have no circulating virus, so we don't need to keep people in the car and we don't need that enormous precision," Professor McLaws said.
But Professor McLaws said mass vaccination hubs were a good idea, and the drive-through model could be adapted for Australia.
"Get them to park and walk from their car down to the tent area. They get looked after through that tent area, slowly but also in that orderly manner," she said.
- with Harley Dennett
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