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19 April, 2021

Region's vaccination program on hold for another month

Confidence in the COVID vaccination rollout has fallen in the Torres Strait, forcing health officials to make new plans in the Far North.

By Matt Nicholls

By MATT NICHOLLS

Queensland Health will now hold extensive meetings across the Torres Strait communities in order to restore confidence in the vaccination, which will now be of the Pfizer variety.

“The issues affecting the delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine obviously have impacted upon our communities,’’ Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service executive director of medical services Dr Tony Brown said.

“It is vital that we reach out to each community and provide them with clear information and advice about the vaccines, the risks and benefits associated with them and anything else our communities might want to know prior to restarting the vaccination program.

“These consultations will begin in the Torres Strait from this week and continue through into the second half of May.

“We expect that, by then, sufficient stocks of the replacement Pfizer vaccine that we will be using to restart the vaccination program will have arrived.”

Dr Brown said similar consultations would be held with communities in Cape York prior to vaccination teams arriving.

He said a special freezer to house the Pfizer vaccine was expected to arrive in early May at Thursday Island Hospital, which would be used as a hub for the distribution of the vaccine around the Torres Strait and NPA region.

Similar Pfizer freezers will be located at Weipa and Cooktown hospitals to undertake the vaccination rollout on Cape York once that gets under way later in the year.

Dr Brown said international studies had shown the Pfizer vaccine – while initially delivered in a minus 70-degree freezer container – was stable enough to store for two weeks in a less than minus 70 degrees freezer and for five days in a normal temperature fridge.

“This flexibility in storage temperature is more than sufficient to allow us to distribute it from central hubs such as Thursday Island, Weipa and Cooktown hospitals to our remote communities and allow us to complete the vaccination program to those communities,” he said.

“Over the coming weeks, we will be training our vaccination teams in the administration of the Pfizer vaccine, so they are ready to roll once the vaccine stocks arrive.

“Anyone who has not yet had their first dose of vaccine will be offered Pfizer.

“However, Australia’s national health authorities have emphasised that people who have had their first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine without any serious adverse effects can safely be given their second dose.

“This includes adults under 50 years of age. A total of 884 residents of the Torres Strait have already had the first dose of AstraZeneca.

“Obviously, due to the pause in vaccinations, the completion of the program in the Torres Strait and NPA may take a little longer than initially planned.

“We may therefore start the Cape York rollout while still completing the northern region, with some overlap between the two.”

Dr Brown said the national advice undoubtedly had affected confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine in the Torres and Cape.

“We will not have a clear idea of how willing the population is to be vaccinated until we restart the program,” he said.

“We achieved a 95 per cent vaccination rate of the eligible adult populations aged 18 years and over on Saibai, Dauan and Boigu islands at the beginning of our vaccination rollout.

“But we had significantly lower rates on Horn and Hammond islands during the week in which the rollout was paused.

“This was disappointing, and we hope the turnout improves once we restart the program in the second half of May.’’


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