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Sunday, February 28, 2021

ACT’s rapid COVID-19 vaccine program ‘not a matter of turning up to the GP’

It was announced today that $19 million of expenses and $4.5 million of capital funding will support the launch of the ACT’s COVID-19 vaccine program from February.

The funding will go toward additional staffing, additional training, and increasing storage capacity and facilities within the ACT, particularly for beyond the first phase of the Pfizer vaccination.

The vaccine funding comes as part of a broader a $63 million health investment across “different areas of pandemic management and health service support” announced by the ACT Government today.

For stage 1a of the vaccine rollout, there will be a facility within the Canberra Hospital campus to be known as the “Pfizer Hub”.

“That will need to be staffed up with staff who are trained to specifically administer this vaccine that has quite specific requirements,” ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said.

With five phases planned for the overall program in the ACT, stage 1a will aim to administer a number of vaccinations “in the thousands”.

“It’s going to be a gradual build-up, it’s not a rush, and there are some supply side constraints,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.

The ACT Government will then support a “broader vaccination program” through until at least October, which is the timeframe the Commonwealth Government has put on the broader COVID-19 vaccination schedule across Australia.

“We anticipate there will be additional costs associated with a mass roll out, and ultimately we will need to be ready to invest more,” Mr Barr said.

With Australia on track to have the vaccines in Australia and ready to go by late February, Mr Barr said the commencement of the vaccine program “does not mean the end of the pandemic”.

“It’s important to acknowledge that the risk still remains and my greatest fear for 2021 is that both fatigue and complacency builds up in our community,” he said.

Canberra Health Services executive director of medical services Dr Nick Coatsworth will be heavily involved in the Territory’s vaccine rollout.

Having played a key national role in the Australian response to COVID-19 as Australia’s former Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Coatsworth will bring his expertise to the ACT’s COVID-19 leadership as the vaccine is rolled out over 2021.

“This investment is going to provide the staff and the capacity and the capability for a rapid rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.

“When you have mass vaccination campaigns, that is exactly what they mean, mass vaccinations.

“It is not a matter of turning up to the GP … we need to get through a lot of people very quickly.”

With an overall aim of achieving herd immunity via the vaccine program, in the early stages priority will be given to frontline workers, those most likely to be exposed, and those who are most vulnerable to a negative outcome should they contract the virus.

“There will be decisions that are made as we know more about the vaccine … as to whether there are specific population groups that should or should not be vaccinated,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“There has been some discussion about whether pregnant women should be vaccinated or not; at this point in time the view is no.”

Health Minster Rachel Stephen-Smith

Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT is still working with the Commonwealth to determine how many vaccines will arrive in the ACT, when they arrive, and who will receive the first vaccinations.

While the ACT Government hopes for a 50-50 funding split between states and territories and the Commonwealth Government on the vaccination rollout, the Commonwealth is taking responsibility for the transport and storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus-70oC.

Ian Cubitt's
Ian Cubitt's