THE great hope to stave off future snap lockdowns - the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine - is now a key step closer to start rolling out to about 2000 Ballarat high-risk health workers by the end of next week.
Only testing and preventative measures remain the strongest weapons Ballarat residents will have against deadly coronavirus strains for months ahead, according to health experts. It remains unclear when or how vaccinations might reach the general populace.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed the first 142,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in Sydney on Monday. The delivery must go through security and quality testing before distribution to the states next week.
Mr Hunt said 80,000 doses of the shipment would be released next week, with the remainder to be kept aside for second doses.
States would receive 50,000 doses, on proportion to population needs, to begin the process of vaccinating hotel quarantine staff, frontline health workers, and aged care workers and residents.
Hotel quarantine workers were considered highest priority due to the greater risk to community transmission. The federal government will have about 30,000 doses available for private aged care facilities.
Ballarat Health Services chief executive officer Dale Fraser confirmed BHS had been working closely with St John of God Ballarat Hospital, particularly to determine which front-line staff were eligible under the government's phase 1a priority list.
BHS, which will host a Pfizer hub for western Victoria, will oversee vaccinations to be delivered to Ballarat Aged Care facilities but Mr Fraser said private aged care was the Commonwealth's responsibility. His understanding, at this stage, was state vaccination allocations would be split into priority public and priority private services. BHS awaits further direction from the state health department.
"The exact details are yet to be finalised, but it is likely that as a Pfizer hub, the Ballarat hub will receive vaccines that are allocated to the priority private services, though not specifically delivered by BHS," Mr Fraser said.
Manufacturing for the Victorian-made doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are also underway. This vaccine is awaiting final regulatory approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
All other healthcare workers plus Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples, Australians aged over 70 not in aged care, younger people with underlying medical conditions and other emergency workers are in the federal government's phase 1b roll-out. This is about 6.1 million people.
The federal government has pledged to have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of April.
Phase 2a includes Australians aged over 50, the balance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and critical workers. Phase 2b is other adults.
For Ballarat, those to first receive the Pfizer vaccine are likely to be those working in emergency departments, intensive care unit, respiratory clinics, COVID-19 testing sites and as paramedics.
Grampians Public Health Unit is overseeing the region's Pfizer hub and its strict cold-chain storage and delivery protocol.
IN OTHER NEWS
During the snap lockdown, the Grampians Public Health Unit is involved in contact tracing.
This comes as dozens of families from St Aloysius Parish School were sent into self-isolation after a senior school excursion to Queen Victoria Market last Thursday. Victoria's health department has declared this a high-risk exposure site as it was visited by a person later found to be infected with COVID-19 at the same time.
BHS' Rapid Response Testing Team remains on standby to offer extra support to UFS-led testing if and when needed. This could include a pop-up secondary site in Ballarat, as occurred during the pre-Christmas influx from Sydney travellers.
UFS chief executive Lynne McLennan confirmed testing hours at the UFS Respiratory Clinic in Errard Street North have been extended until 8pm for at least the remainder of this week.
Ms McLennan said extra staff had been called in to help deal with the surge in demand for testing since the start of the Holiday Inn's COVID cluster outbreak and statewide lockdown.
Same day urgent appointments are available for anyone who has been directed to undergo testing as a result of possible exposure to a confirmed case, and to essential workers, but are available only by calling the clinic on4311 1571. Anyone with even the slightest cold, flu or hayfever-like symptoms should call the clinic or book online.
As of Saturday, no patient visitors are allowed in BHS facilities, including Base Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Centre and Ballarat Aged Care. Exceptions are for end-of-life reasons, a support partner during birth and a parent to accompany a child.
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