5 February 2021

There’s no doubt the lessons of the pandemic will loom large for our whole nation for many years to come. Together, we have learned again the importance of safe and secure work, of trust in our civic institutions and critically, we have all seen first-hand the place of well-funded, universal public health care in helping keep us safe.

As the clock ticked over to 2021 many people felt a sense of relief. But the fact remains that we are still vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next step on our road to recovery will be rolling out a national vaccination program and this will be an enormous logistical challenge for the federal Coalition.

Those challenges are greater in regional and rural communities.

Unfortunately, despite the federal Liberal and National Government’s promise that Australia would be first in the queue for a vaccine, we are already seeing evidence of delays and problems in the roll out.

The process for GPs to express interest in participating in the vaccination program only just commenced two weeks ago. At the time of writing this column, the process for pharmacists to participate had not yet started.

The Federal Coalition Government has not yet signed contracts for vaccine procurement with companies like Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

There are no contingency plans in place if there are delays importing Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines from Europe, and that’s assuming the Astra Zeneca vaccine is approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Doctors groups have expressed concerns that the promised 1000 distribution sites will simply not be adequate to administer 50 million doses of the vaccine.

All of this is added to the existing problems of lack of adequate staffing and health resources in regional communities.

As the National Rural Health Alliance recently pointed out, Australians in regional and rural communities experience poorer health outcomes than those in the cities. This puts them at higher risk should they be exposed to COVID-19.

The risks of delay and failure of our COVID-19 vaccination program are real and serious. But they are even more so in regional Australia. There is no room to get this wrong. Australians in regional and rural communities can not afford for the federal Coalition to make excuses and mistakes or to be left by the wayside. The health and livelihoods of locals is depending on it.

This op ed was originally published by The Ararat Advocate and The Pyrenees Advocate.