Calls to include rural health in Covid-19 vaccine rollout prioritisation

With the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 provisionally approved by the TGA for use in Australia, the National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) is calling on Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to ensure that vulnerable people in rural, regional and remote Australia are prioritised for vaccination.

“People in rural, regional and remote communities experience poorer health outcomes than those in major cities, which puts them in a higher risk category for serious health complications associated with Covid-19,” says the Alliance CEO Gabrielle O’Kane.

“It is also much harder to access health services in country areas because we have the situation of persistent inadequate staffing and lack of availability to essential medical and health services in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia.

“As the government launches this unprecedented vaccination rollout, rural Australia is at an unacceptable basis of disadvantage and we urge the government to acknowledge the disparity in rural health access and outcomes when classifying priority groups for vaccination.”

Reportedly, the vaccine rollout program is expected to be conducted through 30-50 vaccination hubs, Commonwealth-funded GP-led Respiratory Clinics, Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Services, private GP practices and community pharmacies.

However, according Ms O’Kane points to the “logistical challenges of this undertaking in rural, regional and remote areas”.

“The Alliance is confident in the Commonwealth’s ability to lead this major public health initiative, but we urge that rural, regional and remote Australians aren’t left by the wayside.

“Achieving a swift and effective vaccine rollout to reach the 7-million people living in rural, regional and remote communities will require the cooperation of every organisation and health professional in the vaccine supply chain,” says Ms O’Kane.

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