A LEADING Ballarat medico says the need to speed up the city's vaccination race is "doubly" vital as a regional centre to spare extra pressure on health services a surge would bring.
Ballarat is trailing regional neighbours Bendigo, Warrnambool and Geelong when it comes to first jab doses against COVID-19 for residents aged 15-plus, according to the latest federal health data.
City leaders say COVID-19 vaccinations were a matter of urgency.
While there have been no new cases in regional Victoria in the latest outbreak, they point to regional New South Wales, in centres like Dubbo where active cases have climbed to 128 with 21 new infected people by Tuesday evening.
Emergency doctor and City of Ballarat councillor Mark Harris said there was little room for overflow patients in regional hospitals and no chance to bypass them like there was in metropolitan areas should the Delta strain hit our health services.
Cr Harris said Ballarat's health system would not cope with a COVID surge.
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Ballarat Health Services was one of the most successful in the state when the city tallied almost 60 COVID-19 cases last year with about 30 active at the virus' peak in late August.
Cr Harris said ventilator availability would not likely be the big issue, his concern was for staffing should the virus get in and wipe out whole shifts for exposure - and the impacts would be the similar for businesses.
"When considering whether we are locked down in the future, a part of this will be how well an area is vaccinated," Cr Harris said.
"We need to focus on how we get that done. While people are concentrating on supply, we know another month or less more supply is coming, we need to look at what's next and that is getting jabs in arms."
Cr Harris said the next five months would be critical: opening up out of winter while jab supply caught up.
Almost two in five Ballarat adults are now fully vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus, but the city still lags behind its regional neighbours when it comes to jabs in arms.
Warrnambool now tops the state when it comes to first doses for COVID-19 vaccinations with 57.9 per cent of residents aged 15-plus at least partially protected, according to data released on Wednesday.
This comes one week after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews approved AstraZeneca for under-40s to be delivered at state-run hubs.
Ballarat has slipped to eighth region in the state for first doses in the past week, but the proportion of first jabs has narrowly increased from 50.3 per cent to 53 per cent of residents.
The city's two mass vaccination hubs are averaging a combined 1000 jabs per day.
Committee for Ballarat chief Michael Poulton said this allowed for at least 12,000 more doses available by the month's end.
Mr Poulton said there was a sense of competition for who was on top of the leaderboard while the reality was all areas were working hard to raise such numbers.
"We need to be quite ambitious, perhaps even beyond the federal government's targets. We need to look how and what we have to do to get to that point," Mr Poulton said. "We've clearly got more supply coming and numbers will increase quickly but data shows us there are still concerning age groups with 60 to 65 year olds the lowest in regional Victoria."
We need to look how and what we have to do to get to that point. We've clearly got more supply coming and numbers will increase quickly but data shows us there are still concerning age groups.Michael Poulton, Committee for Ballarat chief executive
Committee for Ballarat has been leading a united campaign across the region calling on community leaders to lead by example and roll up their sleeves.
Mr Poulton said there were mechanisms coming into play for employers to allow for additional leave for staff to recover from jabs, should they feel side effects.
He also said a greater push for pop-up jab clinics was vital to ensure vaccine access to the city's most vulnerable people. Ballarat Community Health and Uniting Ballarat vaccinated more than 70 people from high-risk accommodation in a pop-up on Tuesday.
City of Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney said he had great respect for Ballarat's young adults turning out in force to get vaccinated after the state allowed under-40s easier access to AstraZeneca.
Cr Moloney was concerned at the general level of complacency towards the virus given Ballarat did not have any cases and he urged anyone eligible to get vaccinated while they had the chance.
To think we will have no issues coming out of the metro areas is optimistic at best but naive at worst.Daniel Moloney, City of Ballarat mayor
"To think we will have no issues coming out of the metro areas is optimistic at best but naive at worst," Cr Moloney said. "Surely, a year-and-half into this, Victoria can see what's coming from a mile away.
"Hopefully the next few weeks' supply will meet demand. I encourage people to just get on a booking list . At least have a date to know when to have your first or second jab. You don't want to be unarmed later this year.
"Regional communities in New South Wales are struggling big time and we would be naive to think the same thing can't happen here."
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