Locked down Sydneysiders travelling 70km to access COVID vaccines

Jolyon Attwooll

23/07/2021 4:57:40 PM

People from Sydney are booking up vaccinations in regional areas, reducing access for those living nearby – including essential workers.

Map showing route from Sydney to Wollongong.
Sydney-siders have been going up to 70 kilometres outside of the metropolitan area to access vaccines. (Image: Google Maps)

GPs from regional NSW say essential workers who live locally may be missing out on vaccines due to Sydney-siders booking slots outsider their local area.
General practices outside of the metropolitan area that run COVID-19 vaccination clinics are seeing a sharp influx of appointments made by people from the city.
The ABC reported on Friday that Sydney-siders have been going up to 70 kilometres outside of the metropolitan area, travelling as far as Wollongong to access vaccines.
Dr Ann Ellacott confirmed there has been a significant influx of bookings from the people in the city for COVID-19 vaccination slots at her Thirroul practice, which is more than an hour’s drive south of the Sydney CBD.
She told newsGP the issue arose when the supplies of Pfizer came online and that they had been caught off guard when bookings began to come through earlier in the week.
‘One of my administration staff said to me “we’re getting all these appointments from Sydney”,’ she said. ‘We were getting them from Summer Hill, Auburn, Lidcombe, Austral, all over the place.
‘We knew people were able to go beyond their local government area, and outside of the 10-kilometre limit to get treatment as well as to have a vaccination, but we didn’t think they would be travelling 70 kilometres.’
The NSW Minister for Health Brad Hazzard explicitly urged people on Thursday to get vaccinated, saying it is a valid reason to leave a local government area.
‘There’s nothing, but nothing more important than getting vaccinated at the moment,’ Minister Hazzard told media.
All of the Pfizer slots at the Thirroul practice are already booked out until September and Dr Ellacott said she is now hearing that many locals have been unable to book appointments.
The administration staff are bearing the brunt of it, she said.
‘Our staff have had a lot of agitated patients on the end of the phone because obviously everyone wants to get a vaccine, but the vaccines just aren’t available,’ she told the ABC.
‘There was one email that we got that finished up with a person saying “it’s deplorable” because he couldn’t get in to get a vaccination.
‘Many patients understand but many, many are upset … and it means a lot of our local patients are going to have their vaccinations pushed back.’
RACGP NSW&ACT Faculty member representing Illawarra, Associate Professor Rowena Ivers, is also based in Wollongong and said she is aware of essential workers being unable to book in the area.
‘GPs are doing their best when people call up, and they are being asked to give priority to people who are aged care workers,’ she told newsGP.
However, Associate Professor Ivers says with general practice receptions being under such pressure, there is relatively limited ability for ‘stratification’ of vaccination priorities beyond eligibility.
‘General practice has a role to play but it’s really a technical capacity for online bookings,’ she said. ‘They may not be capable of that.’
Associate Professor Ivers encourages general practices to look for their own way to assess whether people are in essential worker groups, but says the ability to do that varies from practice to practice.
She also believes mass vaccination hubs are likely to be the key to ensuring all essential workers have access to vaccines and hopes more will be done to prioritise people in the worst affected outbreak areas.
‘Allowing that access to vaccines in areas where there is an active breakout would be useful,’ Associate Professor Ivers said.
‘There are ways to do that already but improving those [would be] a great way of facilitating uptake in the right areas.’
As for whether people should travel beyond their local government area, Associate Professor Ivers said it is a matter for NSW Health to rule on.
‘Obviously the more people travelling, the more risk there is,’ she said. ‘We know that general practices have been shut down through people with COVID coming into them – and pharmacies shut down as well.
‘But GPs really want to support the rollout.’
The one positive thing from the outbreak is that more people are getting vaccinated, Associate Professor Ivers says, with the take-up of vaccination slots in the regions an indication of the increased demand.
‘It’s relatively new that, as more and more people are vaccinated, some of those people who were hesitant are now taking it up, which is great,’ she said.
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