UNTIL children can receive a COVID vaccination, more must be done to protect them from the deadly virus by essentially ensuring our own protection, emergency department doctor Mark Harris warns.
The doctor and City of Ballarat councillor said he still felt there were some people holding out from being vaccinated, whether this be difficulty in finding time or genuine hesitancy but now was the time to get moving.
There have been at least eight positive COVID cases and one child hospitalised from an Alfredton Primary School outbreak. Delacombe primary was also closed on Friday for deep cleaning.
Only children as young as 12 are eligible to be vaccinated against coronavirus, leaving the majority of primary school pupils unable to be jabbed. Mask wearing in class becomes mandatory for pupils in grades three to six from Monday.
Cr Harris said the simple dynamic was vaccinations protected against COVID-19 and if you were not vaccinated, you were not protected.
Particularly while we increasingly have our youngest groups not vaccinated, there is a responsibility on adults to do what they can.- Mark Harris, City of Ballarat councillor and emergency department doctor
"Particularly while we increasingly have our youngest groups not vaccinated, there is a responsibility on adults to do what they can," Cr Harris said. "Ballarat is doing a good job, but if you're not double vaccinated soon, you're not going to be able to participate in society much the next few years either.
"Circumstances are until we can close that loop for that young age group, at the moment with the amount of vaccinated population, or until we can eliminate it from that age group entirely, they are at perpetual risk."
Already, more than 90 per cent of Ballarat residents aged 15-plus were at least partially vaccinated and a surge in second doses was starting, according to data released earlier this week.
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton has called for the focus to shift to a 90 full vaccination rate to best protect Ballarat before the state opened.
Australia's 80 per cent fully jabbed target for those aged 16-plus equates to 64 per cent of total population, according to ABC News, leaving predominantly children without protection when Victoria opened next month.
"How do we get people to that second dose? It's about accessibility from state hubs, pop-ups, UFS and other chemists and GPs [general practitioners] ensuring vaccine availability is not an issue," Mr Poulton said.
"We know there are barriers to people deliberately getting healthcare, whether it be going to the doctor for a sore foot or check-up. We need to try and remove some of these barriers to get a vaccine."
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Cr Harris said this was bigger than Ballarat. The city's health region covered the Grampians but also had the potential to be "eaten up" on the eastern border with patients seeking care from bordering outer-metropolitan suburbs, such as Melton.
This was a health trend and pressure on services before the pandemic.
Ballarat Health Services chief executive officer Dale Fraser told The Courier earlier this week that 15 per cent of the 140,000 state hub COVID jabs delivered in the Grampians region had been to metropolitan residents.
BHS Base Hospital has become a streaming hospital for overflow COVID patients from metropolitan areas, largely because of Ballarat's strong vaccination figures and subsequent lower risks for COVID hospitalisation.
Cr Harris said what worked in Victoria's favour was the approaching summer weather which offered some reprieve on respiratory conditions. This was a chance, Cr Harris said, to go hard on jabs and support the health system.
Any reprieve is a chance to step up our vaccinations.- Mark Harris, City of Ballarat councillor and emergency department doctor
"Any reprieve is a chance to step up our vaccinations," Cr Harris said.
"We used to say when the pandemic started and there was no vaccine we would have to use draconian measures to allow the health system to cope...It's super tricky. We don't have the people trained for expanding the health system to cope with even a modest surge."
Cr Harris said comparing hospitalisation rates between local government areas could become a new state focus after vaccination rates.
He said the impending northern hemisphere winter would undoubtedly serve up good and bad lessons in facing what might come next in Australia on the COVID front.
From what Cr Harris had heard from colleagues at Northern Hospital a large COVID case influx proved a sharp learning curve for all staff. BHS continues to manage COVID patients in hospital but Cr Harris said staff were yet to face pressure from high numbers.
BHS emergency department nurse unit manager Grant Berriman said it would be foolish to not think Ballarat would experience more COVID patients.
A white tent outside Base Hospital's emergency department is set to come into play as a separate location to triage COVID patients and patients with mild to moderate respiratory conditions.
Mr Berriman said the emergency team had been preparing and refining plans the past 18 months and while confident, did not know what step COVID might take next in Ballarat.
"We've been looking to Melbourne and some of the metro areas and we know it can change very quickly. We're very prepared," Mr Berriman said.
"...This measure [the tent] is about ensuring we're properly prepared to service the community.
"Really the key message to the community is to please get vaccinated so we can avoid seeing you here in the first place."
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