Australian expats not registered with Medicare say they can’t get their vaccinations recognised

Non-residents who live abroad but received jab in Australia frustrated by inability to be recognised by immunisation record or get international passport

Australians who live overseas but got vaccinated while visiting Australia say the immunisation record system is failing to recognise their Covid vaccination status if they are not registered with Medicare, trapping them in a “black hole” of bureaucratic wrangling.

Two Australian citizens, both healthcare workers living long-term in Kenya, have told the Guardian they were vaccinated during trips home to see their sick parents this year.

Both have been unable to obtain proof of their vaccination status from the Australian government. Neither is registered with Medicare, because they are non-residents, and were instead told by their vaccine providers they could use an individual healthcare identifier (IHI) to link their identity to the doses they had received.

Anna Cullen, a physiotherapist originally from Sydney, returned home this year to see her mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer. She was fully vaccinated with Pfizer at a hospital in New South Wales.

Her attempts to register an IHI have proved impossible. The Australian government told her that to register the IHI, she would need a visa.

Cullen said a Services Australia employee had told her there was nothing that could be done.

“He said ‘Yeah I’m really sorry, you’re in the black hole,’” she said.

“That hasn’t changed. So we can’t get even a certificate of vaccination, let alone applying for the international passport that we need.”

Cullen’s friend, Dr Marie-Louise Cantamessa, a GP who has lived in Kenya for 33 years, had a similar experience. She returned home in May and June to see her father, who is 95, and suffers from heart and renal failure.

Cantamessa received her second dose of Astrazeneca while in Australia but could not get digital proof because she is a non-resident and not registered with Medicare.

“I did discover that I have an IHI number but this didn’t help as when I used it online I received the message that I was not eligible for the service,” she said.

When Kenyan authorities asked to see proof that she was fully vaccinated so she could continue working in the healthcare system there, she was unable to provide it and was forced to get a further dose in Kenya.

“I felt bad as in effect I was taking an extra dose from someone who hadn’t had any,” she said.

Flights into Sydney from 1 November for citizens, residents and their families will require a person to prove their vaccination status, though airlines are still contemplating running more limited services for unvaccinated people, who would have to quarantine on arrival.

Cantamessa is now unsure how her vaccine status will complicate her return.

“One cannot plan, one just waits for a seat to come up,” she said. “I would like to be able to jump on a plane at the last minute, when needed, to help my sister care for my father.”

The office of the health minister, Greg Hunt, referred queries about the cases to Services Australia.

Spokesperson Hank Jongen said Australians who were overseas can call a Medicare International phone number if they were unable to access records of their vaccination online.

Services Australia also said people who are not eligible for Medicare will still have their vaccine recorded on the register by their vaccination provider and would be able to view it using the IHI service on MyGov.

“A visa is not required to obtain an IHI number, but it may be used to link individual’s records in some instances,” Jongen said.


Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp

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