A NEW vaccination centre will open in Warrnambool in preparation for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
South West Healthcare will open the centre at the former Sam's Warehouse premises on Merri Street, where around 40,000 local people will be vaccinated in the next 12 months.
SWH chief executive Craig Fraser said an enormous amount of work had gone on behind the scenes as the region's largest health service prepared itself for the biggest immunisation initiative in history.
"A recruitment campaign is under way for doctors, nursing staff and administration staff, and options are being explored for a suitable immunisation site at Camperdown," he said.
"The timing of when the vaccinations will commence is subject to the supply of the vaccines through the Barwon Health-coordinated regional vaccination hub.
"At this stage it's anticipated frontline SWH staff most-at-risk of exposure and all 23 Merindah Lodge residents will be offered the opportunity to have the Pfizer vaccine administered onsite at SWH's Warrnambool Base Hospital, Camperdown Hospital and Merindah Lodge in the next three to four weeks.
"All remaining SWH staff and the local community will be offered the opportunity to have, most likely, the AstraZeneca vaccine administered onsite at SWH's COVID Vaccination Centre."
Up to 600 phase 1a priority patients will receive the first round of the Pfizer vaccine in the coming weeks.
This centre will be here until everyone in our region is vaccinated and hopefully we get to the highest vaccination rates in in Australia.Craig Fraser, SWH CEO
SWH is looking to recruit up to 40 more staff to assist with the vaccination rollout.
"We're not exactly sure when that will be, but the Pfizer vaccine will be part of the first rollout, and then the AstraZeneca vaccine will be part of the second rollout which most of the community gets," SWH Director of Infection Prevention Dr Mark Page said.
"There's a lot of questions and concerns about the vaccine. But, in general, we're fortunate in that there's been a lot of experience already overseas with the vaccines; millions of people have already received them so the message we're getting in and the signalling coming through from overseas, is that the vaccines are safe.
"They seem to be very effective in preventing severe COVID-19 and COVID-related death, and the reactions to the vaccine in terms of allergy profile or local reactions are very mild and the severe allergic reactions are very rare.
"So it's really looking positive for us to have an effective vaccine against this virus a lot sooner than we might have expected."
Both the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine have received approval for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Trained immunisation staff will administer both.
The Sam's Warehouse site will be converted within the next two weeks and will be overseen by COVID-19 coordinator Sue Anderton.
"We want to run these centres seven days a week and initially it'll be an eight-hour day, but we hope to push that out to be a bit longer," she said.
"It will be essentially a one-way trip through the vaccination centre starting with your reception and booking in through to waiting for the immunisation and then to the observation bay and then discharge, so it will actually be a very modern, state of the art layout.
"What we're envisaging is initially maybe in the first week, 100 a day then quickly catching up to 200 a day and after a couple of months, 300, 400 per day, so that essentially we do 35,000 people within six months, but remembering that we have to do two injections."
COVID vaccination to start in Portland
The first COVID-19 vaccinations in south-west Victoria will be administered in Portland from Monday, March 1.
A vaccination outreach team from the Barwon South West Public Health Unit will be in Portland to work in partnership with Portland District Health, to vaccinate healthcare workers, public sector aged care residents and port workers, in line with the phase 1a priority rollout.
An estimated 150 to 200 people, comprising port workers, public aged care residents and frontline health workers, are expected to be vaccinated across two-and-a-half days.
The Barwon South West's COVID-19 vaccination program started last week with public aged care residents, frontline healthcare workers and port workers in Geelong receiving the Pfizer vaccine.
PDH CEO Christine Giles said Portland was one of the first places in regional Australia to start the vaccination program.
"We're high on the priority list because of the port so we've become one of the first rural health services to start the vaccination program," Ms Giles said.
"This is good news for our region and we will continue to work closely with Barwon Health's Barwon South West Public Health Unit to ensure more vaccines are delivered in Portland as they become available."
The former walk-in fever clinic at PDH has been converted to a vaccination clinic. A dedicated area has been established for storing and mixing the injections, under the supervision of the specialist outreach team, before they are delivered to the vaccination area.
The PDH drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic remains available if needed and Ms Giles said surveillance testing of port workers was continuing despite there being no active cases in the region.
The vaccines will be brought to Portland by the Barwon Health outreach team and stored under prescribed conditions. The outreach team will supervise the vaccinations which are expected to start on Monday afternoon and should be completed by Tuesday afternoon.
"Our staff have been doing a lot of work in the background to get ready and we're looking forward to playing our part in delivering this vaccine to our local community," Ms Giles said.
PDH Urgent Care Centre and COVID testing staff will be the first health workers to receive the local vaccination. It will be a phased rollout to ensure there is no disruption to health services in case of adverse reactions.
PDH immunisation nursing staff have received specialised training to be part of the delivery program.
Ms Giles said that as more Pfizer stock was made available, PDH would work with the Barwon South West Public Health Unit to expand the vaccination program to the district."
"Our frontline staff and aged care residents are eager to receive the vaccine; however, this process will take some time and we ask for patience as the full schedule is yet to be finalised.
About 3000 people in the Barwon South West region will be vaccinated as part of the immunisation program's first phase.
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