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Thousands of Victorians in their 40s have rushed to book in their Pfizer shots as an onslaught of calls to make appointments for vaccinations caused the state’s coronavirus hotline to temporarily crash.
As a Melbourne cluster spread to 26 people and swelled to more than 10,000 close contacts, acting Premier James Merlino announced that Victoria’s mass COVID-19 vaccine centres will begin administering Pfizer shots for anyone aged 40 to 49.
The vaccination centre at Melbourne Showgrounds. Credit:Eddie Jim
The Victorian government also announced a seven-day, circuit-breaker lockdown that will be in place until 11:59pm on June 3.
But the push for more Victorians to get immunised against the virus triggered a high volume of booking calls that led to a widespread outage of the state’s coronavirus hotline.
Callers reported they had been left on hold for hours, while others said they were unable to get through to book their vaccine appointment.
Some callers also reported hearing a message saying the service was experiencing a delay due to a technical issue during the meltdown.
The state’s Health Department addressed the outage around midday on Thursday.
“Callers are currently having difficulty accessing the Victorian Coronavirus Hotline,” the department tweeted.
“We are working with the service provider and will advise as soon as this issue has been rectified.”
Calls to the service appeared to be operating again by 3pm.
Previously, only people aged over 50 and those in phase 1a and 1b of the vaccine rollout have been eligible to get a jab. People aged over 50 will still be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine in line with advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
This means more than half of all Victorians are now eligible to receive either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines.
Mr Merlino took a swipe at the federal government when addressing reporters about the cluster and announcing Victorians will be plunged into another lockdown.
“We know that our nation’s vaccine rollout has been slower than we’d hoped,” he said.
“If more people were vaccinated, we might be facing a different set of circumstances. Sadly, we’re not. If we make the wrong choice now, if we wait too long, if we hesitate too much, this thing will get away from us and lives will be at risk.”
Meanwhile, Health Minister Martin Foley said one elderly Victorian, who was among the earlier cases in the northern suburbs cluster, was in intensive care in hospital.
“We send our best wishes to that family and we send our prayers for a quick recovery,” he said.
“My understanding is that just in recent days we’ve passed over 50 per cent of over-70-year-olds being vaccinated. Sadly this was not one of those 50 per cent.”
Those aged 40-49 can book an appointment to receive the vaccine by calling the Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398 or online.
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