Raymond Terrace Family Practice will be among the first GP clinics in the Hunter to roll out the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine, and will do so on a large scale.
The practice, which also operates one of the Australian Government's COVID-19 respiratory clinics, was expecting to receive 880 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of this week and begin administering it to eligible residents as part of the 1b rollout from Monday.
"We're expecting delivery of vaccine in our fridge by the end of this week with a view to hit the ground running on Monday," practice co-owner Dr Damian Welbourne said.
"This is hopefully the beginning of the end of the pandemic. We expect if we get really good take up rates of the vaccine, we'll get to the point where the virus is hard to circulate in the community because lots of people have similar resistance."
From March 22, people aged 70 and older, health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults over 55, younger people with an underlying medical condition, including people with a disability, critical and high-risk workers will be eligible to receive the vaccine.
The Primary Health Network, which is working with the Australian Government's Department of Health and vaccine providers such as GPs to carry out the vaccine rollout, said it was expecting more than 190,000 people in the Hunter New England and Central Coast region to be vaccinated.
"In our region we expect that first phase will include over 180,000 people over the age of 70 years and more than 12,000 Aboriginal people over the age of 55," network CEO Richard Nankervis said.
Dr Welbourne said the Raymond Terrace practice was currently recruiting an extra 20 nurses who are qualified to administer the vaccine.
Vaccination clinics will be held in the practice in the afternoons during the week and on Saturday so as to not interfere with the GP clinic.
The standalone respiratory clinic will continue to operate as usual.
Two doctors, five nurses and administrative staff will be on duty during each vaccination clinic.
"We expect we'll quickly move to have six concurrent vaccinators doing 10 an hour each," Dr Welbourne said. "There is concern that there are people in the community won't take the vaccine and will remain vulnerable.
"The overwhelming evidence is in favor of having the vaccine. I've been having lots of conversations with people on the fence and I say to them that nothing is 100 per cent guaranteed with no risk but the thing we can be fairly sure of is if we don't do the vaccination program we'll eventually see a lot of COVID and deaths in Australia. There's a lot more risk not to have it, than to have it."
Mr Nankervis said the Primary Health Network was anticipating "significant demand for the vaccine" during the initial weeks of the 1b rollout.
"To help manage demand comprehensive modelling has been undertaken to efficiently and equitability manage the distribution of vaccine across our region. This means that the vaccine will be delivered first to those general practices that have higher number of patients in priority groups that have been identified using public health, medical and epidemiological evidence," he said.
Among those initial clinics is Raymond Terrace Family Practice.
Dr Welbourne said the practice was approached by the government to rollout the vaccine as it had been successfully operating the respiratory clinic for the past 12 months, which has administered 15,000 COVID-19 tests.
"As vaccine supply increases they'll on board more practices. What the government and health authorities are aiming to do is to try not have a lot of practices serve the same footprint while vaccines are so scarce," he said.
Australian health advisors and the government said they remain committed to the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout despite safety concerns from European countries such as Germany, Italy and France who suspended their AstraZeneca vaccine rollout amid blood clot concerns.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be administered at Raymond Terrace Family Practice, requires two jabs 12 weeks apart for "full coverage". The vaccine is free and does not require a prescription.
An information campaign on how to book for a vaccine is expected to begin rolling out from Monday.
Dr Welbourne said vaccination bookings will soon be available through the practice's website: rtfp.com.au.
The Public Health Network is recommending people visit the online vaccine eligibility checker at covid-vaccine.healthdirect.gov.au to find out what phase of the rollout they are eligible for.
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