BENDIGO general practitioners are excited to begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations in the coming weeks, saying it will mark step back towards normality for Australia.
Several Bendigo general practices are among more than 4,500 clinics set to participate in phase 1b of Australia's COVID-19 vaccine rollout. A thousand of these will begin vaccinating from March 22, with more joining in the following weeks.
Among them will be the Spring Gully Respiratory Clinic, set to begin offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to priority groups from April 6.
Clinic director Ewa Piejko said a good vaccination uptake would reduce the burden on health services, keeping everyone in the community healthy.
It's now nearly a year since the Spring Gully clinic first opened, offering COVID-19 testing. Dr Piejko said everyone expected the virus to hit Australia much harder then, so there was a lot of urgency to set up within two weeks.
Now she said it was nice to be able to approach preparation for vaccinations in a much calmer manner, because the pandemic had been managed so well in Australia.
Dr Piejko said the respiratory clinic was well-placed to vaccinate healthcare and emergency workers, freeing up GP clinics for the elderly and those with chronic disease.
She said it was really positive that people would be able to receive vaccination from their own GP, who would be aware of their medical history.
Dr Piejko urged all Australians to get vaccinated when they became eligible, saying health experts around the world supported the science. She said Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration, known for being strict, would not allow anything unsafe.
"To protect those that are vulnerable in the community, and for us to be able to get back to normal as much as possible, and to help support the businesses and hospitality, tourism, it's really important that we get vaccination," she said.
Set to receive shots during phase 1b of the rollout are adults aged over 70, health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55, adults with specific medial conditions and critical and high risk workers.
Bendigo Community Health Services director of Primary Health Care Services Graem Kelly said it was encouraging to see "the light at the end of the tunnel" after COVID-19 posed one of the biggest public health issues arising in his lifetime.
Mr Kelly said BCHS was expected to receive its first doses of the vaccine on April 5, most of which it would administer in a weekly clinic at Eaglehawk.
He urged the public to show support for those more at risk from COVID-19 by getting vaccinated when they were eligible.
Mr Kelly said even those not eligible for Medicare, such as travellers, refugees and asylum seekers, were eligible for a free COVID-19 vaccine.
He urged the community keep an eye on when vaccinations became available for them, saying they were welcome to ask BCHS.
Dr Piejko said the Spring Gully clinic hoped to administer 400-500 vaccinations per day when it reached its peak. She said it would continue testing for possible COVID-19 cases during afternoons and Mondays, while offering vaccinations in the morning Tuesday to Saturday.
Dr Piejko said the logistics were very different from the annual influenza vaccination program. The clinic plans to erect a marquee in its carpark to confirm consent and eligibility for those being vaccinated, then for the subsequent monitoring.
Australians can check at which phase they will become eligible for the vaccine on the Department of Health website at: bit.ly/2OON6b5.
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