Rural doctors are reminding the NSW government that rural areas also need to hit the 70 per cent vaccinated level, as well as obtain complete access to vaccines for eligible people, before they should be opened up for travel.
The ‘Roadmap to Freedom’ has flagged that regional areas will be accessible for travel to the fully vaccinated once the state reaches 70 per cent vaccination.
However, a number of rural areas are lagging behind, with some still having significant access issues, and many eligible people not being able to access a vaccine appointment in time to meet the anticipated 15 October date.
Evans Head based Dr Charles Evill, President of the Rural Doctors Association of NSW, said that he was seeking assurances that rural areas would be kept on par during the rollout.
‘It is far easier to meet the 70 per cent state-wide target if you make sure a large percentage of the metro populations are vaccinated,’ said Dr Evill. ‘That would be the quickest way to get the rate high enough to meet the date, but could leave regional, rural and remote areas to lag behind.
‘It is really important that people, particularly those 16 to 39 years old, who have only in the past few weeks been able to book an appointment for the Pfizer vaccine – the one that was clinically recommended for them – are able to protect themselves.
‘Many of these people have not been able to schedule an appointment until after the estimated October 15 date, and if they get sick it was not through lack of trying or willingness to be vaccinated.’
Supply shortages and mixed messaging
Dr Charles Evill said, ‘The uptake of vaccines has been delayed due to the government’s own messaging that left most of the community with the view that Pfizer was the only vaccine safe for younger people. This vaccine has only started becoming available to rural communities very recently.
‘Our rural doctors remain nervous about the impacts of COVID reaching their communities because, despite what the premier promises, the surge workforce simply is not there to support outbreaks in multiple communities at the same time.
‘With three weeks between vaccines, and a further 7-14 days for full efficacy to be reached after receiving the final dose, it is very unlikely that rural LGAs with rates lower than 60 per cent for their first dose now, can reach 70 per cent fully covered by that date,’ he said.
‘We need the NSW government to commit to making sure rural and remote are fully protected, with vaccines available for all eligible people, before re-allowing travel between regions.’
Dr John Hall, President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, said that there were areas of concern right across Australia, and some states really needed to lift their game in rolling out vaccines into rural and remote areas.
‘Until there is equity of access, and all Australians, no matter how rural or remote they are, are able to get their jab in a timely fashion, these areas should not be available for travellers,’ said Dr Hall.
‘There are remote communities in Western Australia and Queensland of particular concern, with high risk populations and low vaccination rates. We need to see this data at its most granular level, so we can take action to protect these communities, understand their issues and address them,’ he said.
‘For Australia in its entirety to reach acceptable levels of vaccination rates for reopening, we need the states to play a more active part in ensuring that those residents in rural, remote and very remote areas are equally able to protect themselves.
‘It is not fair that people who have been waiting for a vaccination to be potentially put at risk by travellers before they even have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated,’ said Dr Hall.