'NOT FAIR': Southwest Sydney residents charged for vaccine

·4-min read

Residents in southwest Sydney have been charged hundreds of dollars to receive the coronavirus Pfizer vaccine, despite government rules that it should be free.

A GP clinic in Campsie has been charging for consultations and registration before administering the vaccine.

A woman in her 20s told AAP she had paid $250 to receive the Pfizer jab from the Blessed Health Care clinic at Evaline Street after queuing up from 8am on Saturday.

The Malaysian woman, who works as a tiler, said she did not want to wait months to get the Pfizer vaccine given the high rates of virus transmission where she lives.

"I wanted to get it quickly, to be safer, so I paid the money," she told AAP in Mandarin.

A sign outside Blessed Health Care clinic in Campsie, that says the clinic is charging $225 for an appointment to receive Pfizer vaccine, and $80 for the second dose appointment, more on the weekend. Source: AAP
A sign outside Blessed Health Care clinic in Campsie, that says the clinic is charging $225 for an appointment to receive Pfizer vaccine, and $80 for the second dose appointment, more on the weekend. Source: AAP

The woman is on a bridging visa and does not have Medicare. She says her colleagues, also Malaysian citizens on temporary visas, have been vaccinated in the same way.

She will return for her second dose in six weeks, when she'll be charged at least $60, she said.

"It's not fair, it should be free," she said.

Blessed Health Care has two clinics in Campsie administering Pfizer.

Cumberland councillor Kun Huang told AAP the issue has been raised in at least three different groups on the Chinese-language app WeChat, with workers from Auburn and Lidcombe contemplating going to Campsie to get the jab.

He has been sent invoices from people who received the Pfizer vaccine at Blessed Health, which show they were charged $225 between July 24 and 26.

The item description is either a "new patient registration fee" or a "Level C Surgery" - a Medicare item for a long consultation.

The Covid-19 vaccine is free for everyone, a federal health department spokesperson told AAP. That includes people who do not have a Medicare card and applies regardless of visa status.

"Clinics cannot charge a patient any cost associated with the administration of the Covid-19 vaccine, including booking fees," the spokesperson said.

"The Department of Health has made the requirements under the program clear with GPs and the overwhelming majority are doing the right thing."

The department's web page states that the consult appointment for patients to receive the vaccination is free.

Doctor at practice defends the charges

A nurse at Blessed Care's Anglo Street clinic, Jacob Chen, told AAP the practice could not give the vaccine to new patients without first taking a medical history. Because it is a private practice, it does not bulk bill for the consultation.

The vaccine itself is free, he said.

Dr Ben Ang, who works at Evaline Street, said his clinic was serving a marginalised community.

"We are not the villain, we are the helper," he said.

The Chinese-speaking construction workers who come to his clinic "cry out for help" because they believe they need to be jabbed for their jobs, but struggle to book into into vaccine hubs through English-language websites.

Dr Ang said he has been overwhelmed with "hundreds and hundreds" of people turning up as word has spread among the local community.

In just a few days, he has exhausted the vaccine provided for the next two weeks. He called on the government to provide more vaccine to the area.

Sarah, the clinic's receptionist (who declined to share her surname), said anyone who thought they had to pay for the vaccine was confused.

People who do not want to pay fees can go elsewhere, she said.

Shoppers wearing face masks on Beamish Street at Campsie in Sydney on Tuesday. Source: AAP
Shoppers wearing face masks on Beamish Street at Campsie in Sydney on Tuesday. Source: AAP

"We are a private facility and we need to pay our staff," she said. "If they don't have Medicare, I cannot provide this facility for free."

Mr Huang said the NSW government should conduct better outreach in languages other than English around vaccination, particularly the degree of risks around AstraZeneca.

Canterbury MP Sophie Cotsis, whose electoral office is in Campsie, said constituents had contacted her office about paying for the vaccine.

"No one should be charging to vaccinate the community," Ms Cotsis said.

"The federal government needs to relay that information to everyone that's administering the vaccine.

"In the middle of a pandemic, people who are struggling should not be taken advantage of."

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