10 May 2023

Torres and Cape vaccination rollout in crisis

| Matt Nicholls
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The vaccine was the preferred choice for the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service due to transport logistics.

AstraZeneca doesn’t have to be stored in freezers like the Pfizer vaccine, which has now become the preferred vaccine for those aged under 50.

The federal government last week accepted medical advice to “prefer” Pfizer’s vaccine over AstraZeneca’s for under-50s, although people in that age group could still have the AstraZeneca jab if the benefits outweighed the risks, Scott Morrison said.

TCHHS executive director of medical services Dr Tony Brown said the new recommendations had forced a change of tactics.

“The recommendation that Pfizer be administered to under-50s for people who have not yet had their first dose has implications for regions such as ours where the majority of our population base is under 50,” he said.

“It is sensible that we pause the vaccination program rollout to allow us to realign to the new guidelines.”

“The AstraZeneca vaccine remains recommended for all adults aged 18 and over who have already had a first dose with no adverse effects,” Dr Brown said.

“In addition, we are yet to receive information from the Commonwealth as to how and when the necessary doses of Pfizer might be delivered to regions such as ours in order to comply with the new vaccination recommendations.

“We also need to work out how we will manage the transport and distribution of the Pfizer vaccine in remote areas and our vaccination teams will need to be trained in the administration of Pfizer.

“And we need to update the ‘informed consent’ information material given to recipients ahead of their jabs.”

Dr Brown said he could not put a timeframe on when the vaccination rollout would resume in the Torres Strait, before moving south to Cape York, including Weipa.

“All these matters need time to be worked out,” he said.

“We regret any inconvenience caused to our communities, but I am sure everyone will understand the need for us to do this while a strategy is worked out for the continued safe delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination program – both locally and at the state and national levels.

“We will keep our communities informed as we firm up plans for the continuing rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program across our region and the delivery of second doses to communities such as Saibai, Boigu and Dauan, which have already had their first doses.

“In the meantime, I would like to emphasise that vaccination, of any kind, now and in the future, will not be a silver bullet, but rather just a new piece of protection to help contain COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, many of the nation’s GPs are refusing to offer AstraZeneca’s vaccine to people under 50 until the federal government clarifies legal liability if patients suffer serious or fatal side effects.

President of the Royal Australian College of GPs Karen Price said she was considering stopping offering AstraZeneca’s vaccine to people under 50.

“Can you imagine how a lawyer might feel if someone did have a catastrophic reaction? The uncertainty and litigation risk warrants pause,” she said.

“Right now in Australia, we don’t have an alternative vaccine.

“What would happen if we had an outbreak? What would happen if someone could not get their vaccine – and they suffered a severe consequence of COVID?”

A federal Department of Health spokeswoman said the government would continue to provide comprehensive information to GPs “as we have done right through the GP vaccination program” and they should contact their insurers.

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