BALLARAT Health Services' chief is calling for community patience as vaccinations for the deadly coronavirus are set to roll out across the region for about 2000 high-risk people later this month.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley announced on Tuesday BHS would be a hub for the wider Grampians region in delivering the first phase of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to high-risk healthcare workers and public aged care residents.
The newly established Grampians Public Health Unit, which sits within BHS, will oversee the vaccination program for the region, stretching from Ballarat to about Nhill. The team, led by Associate Professor Rosemary Aldrich, is already working to establish a Pfizer centre in Ballarat to manage the tight cold-chain storage process for the vaccine.
BHS chief Dale Fraser said the first phase in vaccine delivery was an important step in the community's pandemic recovery but warned there was no room for complacency in preventative measures.
Mr Fraser said Ballarat had lived "remarkably well" the past 12 months due to everyone's accountability in physical distancing, hygiene, mask-wearing - and there was still a way to go.
"While we do have a vaccine, in reality it's going to be some months before the system can work its way through that population," Mr Fraser. "In the meantime, providing consistent care in your own hygiene and circumstances, not only protects you but also helps protect those around you."
Ballarat federal MP Catherine King, a former opposition health spokesperson, welcomed Ballarat's role in the roll-out and said it was now vital Prime Minister Scott Morrison make good on his pledge that four million Australians be vaccinated by the end of March.
BHS is in talks with private healthcare, like St John of God, but the Commonwealth was responsible for private aged care immunisation.
It's been a slower start than we hoped in Australia, but we all want the government to succeed as quickly as possible.Catherine King, Ballarat MP
"It is critical that the government gets the vaccine right and so that we can protect older and more vulnerable members of our community as soon as possible," Ms King said.
"The United States, the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom all administered their first doses of the vaccine within a week of approval. It's been a slower start than we hoped in Australia, but we all want the government to succeed as quickly as possible."
Australian Medical Association Victoria president Julian Rait said there was still a lot to learn about COVID-19 vaccines but efficient delivery across the state was vital.
"We remain uncertain of the threshold of immunisation required to reach herd immunity as we lack sufficient evidence about how well the various vaccines prevent viral transmission," Associate Professor Rait said. "Regardless, we expect that the roll-out will proceed as quickly as possible given the supply and logistics issues involved."
We remain uncertain of the threshold of immunisation required to reach herd immunity as we lack sufficient evidence...We expect that the roll-out will proceed as quickly as possible given the supply and logistics issues involved.Associate Professor Julian Rait, AMA Victoria president
For Ballarat, delivery will start in the BHS Base Hospital for frontline healthcare workers including those working in the emergency department, intensive care unit, respiratory clinics, COVID-19 testing sites and paramedics.
Mr Fraser said the first Pfizer injections start in Ballarat after the vaccination of hotel quarantine and border workers. He estimated this first phase in Ballarat would vaccinate about 2000 healthcare workers and those in aged care facilities.
With limited stock, vaccines would be delivered on a high-priority basis. Mr Fraser said BHS was working with other community healthcare providers in the planning for the next steps, in which general practitioners would also play an active role.
Grampians Public Health Unit is looking for an accessible site for a Pfizer hub in the region with planning underway for how this might work, and who might be next, under Victorian health department directives as part of the national roll-out.
The initial base will be within the BHS Base Hospital, to vaccinate staff, with a possible secondary option at the Queen Elizabeth Centre on Ascot Street.
Mr Fraser said the Pfizer vaccine has a tight cold-chain protocol with strict conditions on how it was stored, when to thaw and a 30-minute window to administer it once thawed.
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He said BHS frontline staff were honoured to be among the region's first to receive the vaccine and many had the chance to see and read about how this had played out with counterparts in the United States and United Kingdom.
"World-wide evidence show this is a safe vaccine, It has a high efficacy and there are opportunities to consult with medical practitioners on medical concerns," Mr Fraser said. "I encourage actively getting vaccine when you get an opportunity and if are concerned to talk to your GP."
Further roll-out of other COVID-19 vaccines, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, will depend on the Commonwealth's regulatory approval, volume and timing of doses becoming available.