Caption: Hamilton Medical Group practice manager, Michelle Brilley, with WDHS chief executive, Rohan Fitzgerald and WDHS nurse immuniser Carolyn Templeton.
For several weeks, regional healthcare providers have been meeting to ensure the speedy, safe and equitable roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines across the Barwon South West.
With the announcement on Sunday that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has declared the Pfizer vaccine safe for use in Australia, the first phase of the vaccine roll-out is expected to begin in the Southern Grampians soon.
During ‘phase 1’ the Pfizer vaccine will be offered to those most in need of protection, with each recipient requiring two doses, at least three weeks apart. Groups included in the initial roll-out include hospital workers, aged care and disability residents and staff, and quarantine / border workers.
With a 95 per cent efficacy rate, trials suggest the Pfizer vaccine is expected to protect 95 per cent of people vaccinated. Evidence also suggests that all COVID vaccines approved to date prevent people from getting severe disease and importantly, reduce the risk of passing it onto their loved ones.
Western District Health Service (WDHS) Chief Executive, Rohan Fitzgerald says depending on availability, the Health Service expects to begin its staff and resident vaccination program in March.
“The first regional vaccinations will reduce the risk of healthcare workers, patients and aged care residents contracting the virus. Initially we expect to vaccinate over 350 staff and 160 aged care residents.
The program will then expand to include ‘at risk’ people over the age of 70, other healthcare workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 55, and Australians with an underlying medical condition or disability.
Based on the Federal Government’s Vaccine Roll-Out Strategy, the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, expected to be approved by the TGA in the coming weeks, will be rolled-out to the community in the next few months.
The community vaccination program will be a collaborative effort, with temporary mass vaccination sites likely to be set up and local GP clinics and pharmacies ensuring as many people as possible receive the vaccine by the Government’s October deadline.
Mr Fitzgerald says the roll-out poses a number of logistical challenges, but local providers are confident these can be overcome.
“We have over 16,000 residents in the region and ensuring we can deliver an effective, timely vaccination program, will require a whole of community effort. With people needing a minimum of two injections each, that’s 30,000 plus vaccinations in our Shire alone”.
Mr Fitzgerald says that based on the regional and community response to COVID-19 last year, we are well placed to achieve the desired vaccine uptake.
“Making sure that people attend appointments on time and get their repeat vaccination within the required timeframe will be critical, and healthcare providers will be looking at a range of communication strategies for appointment bookings and reminders.
As we have done throughout the pandemic, WDHS will work with other local healthcare providers and organisations to ensure the community is well informed about when, where and how to get the jab.
We will also be hosting an online Q&A session, to discuss community concerns and the regional roll-out in more detail,” Mr Fitzgerald said.