Vaccinations for COVID-19 are likely to start at the end of this month or early in March. Efforts to recruit GPs and community pharmacies have been announced. But along with other local communities, it is still unclear what arrangements will be made for the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine for Hepburn Springs and Daylesford. The Springs Medical Centre is still waiting for information on the local roll out plan.
Vaccination is critical for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing the risks of serious illness and death. An effective vaccination strategy makes it more possible to return to ordinary life again.
The Commonwealth has released the national strategy for prioritising who should get the vaccine in January. All Australians will fall into 1 of 5 priority categories.
The highest priority group is quarantine and boarder workers, frontline health workers, aged and disability care staff and age care and disability care residents.
The second priority group is people aged over 70, other health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 55, younger people with underlying health conditions and disabilities and critical and high risk workers, including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing.
The third priority group is people aged 50 to 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18 to 54 and other critical and high risk workers.
The fourth priority group is the remaining adult population and the final group is children, if it is recommended they receive a vaccination. The precise priorities may change over time.
Three vaccines likely to be used in Australia are the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the Novavax vaccine. Only the Pfizer vaccine has so far been approved for use in Australia. The AstraZeneca vaccine is being produced in Australia under license.
People will need two vaccine injections. It is estimated about 50 million doses will be needed. People will not be able to choose which vaccine they get. Vaccinations will be free.
It is likely vaccinations will be available for the highest priority group in the last week of February through about 50 hospital hubs in urban and rural settings. Ballarat Health and Bendigo Health have been identified as vaccination hubs. These will be expanded for other priority groups as vaccine doses become available. Over time, it is planned that vaccinations will happen in general practices and other community settings.
Vaccinating the bulk of the Australian population for COVID-19 will be a massive undertaking. There is already pressure on the availability, transport and storage of vaccines. There will be further challenges in getting enough qualified staff to carry out the vaccinations. As the number of vaccination centres increase, there will be logistical challenges in determining which centres are approved.
Booking, priority management and reminder systems for the second dose need to be put in place. Arrangements for verifying vaccination status will be required as well if vaccination status is going to be used for travel and work purposes.
Even if optimistic targets of delivering 200,000 doses per day are reached, it will still take most of 2021 to fully vaccinate enough Australians to prevent the ongoing risk of COVID-19. So far, adjusted for population, countries like the UK and the US have not been able to reach this daily level of immunisation.