COVID hotspot among least vaccinated in the country

Jolyon Attwooll

3/08/2021 5:11:19 PM

Detailed new official figures show south-west Sydney has the lowest vaccination rate in the state, with only parts of WA and Queensland faring worse.

Map showing differing COVID vaccination rates
Vaccination rates vary greatly depending on where in the country people are located.

For the first time, data released by the Department of Health (DoH) has broken down the take-up of COVID-19 vaccines into more granular, local detail.
And the numbers, released this week, show some of the zones worst hit by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney are also among areas where residents have received the fewest vaccine doses.
The Geographic Vaccination Rates document details the proportion of the population aged 15 and above who have received their first and second vaccine doses broken down into Statistical Areas Level 4 (SA4). The areas normally have a minimum of 100,000 people, although in metropolitan areas these can be significantly larger.
In south-west Sydney, only 33.1% of people aged 15 and above have received their first dose, the lowest of any area in New South Wales. It is also less than anywhere in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, with only a few pockets in Queensland and Western Australia lower.
Inner south-west Sydney is only marginally higher, at 33.5%.
Residents of south-west Sydney also have close to the lowest rate of full vaccination in the state at 14.6% of the population, with only the statistical areas of Hunter Valley (excluding Newcastle) and Far West and Orana coming in lower at 14.1% and 13.4% respectively.
Dr Ken McCroary, whose Campbelltown practice is a short distance outside of the statistical area, says the data is not unexpected.
‘It’s terribly disappointing, but no surprise. We’ve had this battle for months and months about significant hesitancy locally,’ he told newsGP.
‘The scary part is, this is already after the mass campaign we have been running to try and bump up numbers in the last few weeks. Just imagine how horrible it was before.’
He cites multiple factors being at play, including a diverse socio-economic mix where different approaches may be required.
‘One size, one message does not fit all,’ says Dr McCroary, who believes more consistent messaging is key to addressing some of the challenges those at the sharp end of the vaccine rollout face.
‘We’ve had a bad enough issue with interpretation of messaging from our political leaders throughout the pandemic and that confusion and misinformation – that gets multiplied exponentially.
‘I have never had to spend so much time counselling people on top of the normal visits and consultations we are trying to do.’
For UNSW’s Professor of Respiratory Medicine Christine Jenkins, the fully vaccinated figures in the outbreak areas are a particular worry. 
‘It’s very concerning only 14.6% [of south-west Sydney residents] have had two doses,’ she told newsGP.
‘Getting your first jab is important for reducing household transmission but it takes a couple of weeks [for the vaccine to take effect].
‘These data are not telling us how immune people are likely to be. They are just telling us jabs which have been given, which of course is valuable information – but it’s not telling us the real immune status of this group of people.
‘It’s very low and it’s very concerning.’

At 27%, Launceston and North East SA4 has the highest rate of fully vaccinated people in Australia.
The vaccination figures are taken from the Australian Immunisation Register, with the DoH document stating that the statistics released on Monday represent the total recorded at 11.59pm on Sunday 1 August.
The document also uses the preliminary estimated resident population (ERP) of Australia as at 30 June 2019 to help calculate the overall rate, and with strong population growth since then, the true vaccination rates may be even lower.
However, due to the way population is broken down by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the vaccination rates include the population aged 15 and above. Vaccinations are currently only open to those aged 16 and above, which means 15-year-olds without access to any COVID-19 vaccines are included in the figures.
Until now, the official DoH releases had only been broken down into states and territories. But unlike the national picture, which is released daily and has details from both primary care vaccinations and the state immunisation hubs, the data released on Monday does not include broader details about the take-up rate within different age groups.
For Professor Jenkins, this is a significant omission.
‘We’ve known for some time the state-by-state data [has] varied – and clearly that’s partly dependent on the readiness of the population, the supply of the vaccine … and people’s access,’ she said.
‘I think we need a lot more than this to understand how we are going in terms of success across different age-groups. We need to understand the regional data in more detail.’
Professor Jenkins says there can be a wide demographic within those statistical areas and that it would be helpful to break down information as far as possible. For example, by adding the percentage of residential aged care residents who have been vaccinated.
‘There’s a lot more information you could have, even within particular age groups such as the 70 [and older group] that would be highly informative about community access and vaccination rates,’ she said.
‘I think we do need to know [more detailed data] now. We need to reframe our thinking. Our thinking now needs to be anticipatory, forward planning, forward looking, all the time taking on board current data – as much of it as we can get.’
Dr McCroary agrees, saying that data will help direct efforts.
‘Are we setting up our clinics in the right place? Are we getting the message to the right people? Are we getting the messages to them in a way that is understood by the right groups?’ he said.
‘We can’t make plans, we can’t make up solutions, if we don’t have the underlying information. We’re not going to be able to fix this if we don’t know what’s really going on out there.’
According to the published figures, the highest first dose vaccination rate in the country is currently within the Bendigo local area in Victoria, where 52.6% of the adult population has had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 
Meanwhile, the Launceston and North East area of Tasmania currently ranks as the highest fully vaccinated location in the country, where 27% of its adult population had been fully vaccinated as of the beginning of this week.
At the other end of the spectrum, fewer than one in every five people (18.2%) in northern outback Western Australia had received even one vaccine dose. Just 8.6% of residents there are registered as fully vaccinated.
The Federal Government has come under pressure to publish more transparent data on the vaccine rollout, with Nine Newspapers highlighting the absence of detailed figures earlier this week.
The figures still fall short of some of the details published in other countries. Data in the United Kingdom gives a much more detailed picture of vaccination, allowing the public and medical practitioners to identify gaps in the vaccine rollout more clearly. Their figures track exact vaccination rates within every local government area, and highlight whether they are above or below average.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States (CDC) also publishes detailed, accessible local area data about the rate of vaccination.
Over the past week, vaccination rates have been more scrutinised than ever following the National Cabinet’s consideration of the Doherty Institute modelling designed to give a clear strategy for opening the country up.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has this week said Sydney lockdowns could begin to ease once the state’s vaccination total hits six million doses – a little less than double the current level.
But for Dr McCroary, the success of the program hinges on one main familiar factor: supply.
‘We’ve got the ongoing battle of scarcity of resource and trying to allocate them appropriately, where they should be going, how fast they should be going,’ he said.
‘Until we get mass access to multiple vaccines, then we are going to be struggling because the fear is entrenched out there about AstraZeneca.’
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Dr Ratnakar Bhattacharyya   4/08/2021 2:00:08 PM

We are in a very challenging time. We have very large segment of population unvaccinated who need to bevacainated by the current stock of AstraZeneca /Pfizer vaccaine as fast as possible unless there is any contraindication by every available means including mobile vaccination clinic in order to be able to at least 2/3rd of the entire population of Australia. As far as vaccaine supply is concerned ramp up local manufacturing and procure adequate supply from overseas and we need to be prepared to pay for that.