The Barcaldine region in western Queensland is leading the way in the fight against coronavirus, with almost half of all residents over the age of 18 now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Key points:

  • Nearly 50 per cent of adult residents are fully vaccinated in the Barcaldine region
  • All consenting aged care residents in the region have had two doses of the vaccine
  • Health authorities will start distributing the Pfizer vaccine to the region from mid-June

The Queensland government is ramping up its COVID-19 vaccination rollout this weekend in an attempt to administer 15,000 additional doses.

But, in Barcaldine in the state’s outback, health authorities are already ahead of the game.

The region has around 1,700 residents aged over the age of 18 and just under 50 per cent are now fully vaccinated.

Already, 100 per cent of consenting aged care residents in the Barcaldine region — as well as 100 per cent of aged care residents in the wider Central West Hospital and Health Service (CWHHS) — have had their two doses of vaccine.

In total, 805 of the 949 people who were vaccinated the first round of vaccinations in the Barcaldine region have now had their second dose.

Barcaldine teacher David Simms has also had his second dose of AstraZeneca.

A man wearing a dark jumper, a grey trilby hat and sunglasses standing outside the Barcaldine Shire Hall

David Simms steps outside the Barcaldine Shire Hall, which has been used as a clinic to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine.(

Supplied: CWHHS

)

“It feels terrific. I work with Indigenous students … it’s nice to know that I’m protected and [that] they’re protected and also the general public,” Mr Simms said.

Challenges overcome

The sparseness of the population in the outback is one of the biggest challenges that local health services face.

But remoteness has been one of the region’s best defences against COVID-19 and has been used to an advantage in the vaccination program.

A red, white and blue Royal Flying Doctor Service B200 Super King Air landing on a Queensland outback airstrip

Local health authorities have been working alongside both public and private organisations to give remote and vulnerable residents access to the vaccine.(

Supplied: RFDS

)

For logistical efficiency, anyone above the age of 18 in the CWHHS area has been eligible for the vaccine, unlike the phased roll-out elsewhere.

But it hasn’t happened without challenge, after Australia’s health advice changed regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine in April.

CWHHS executive director of medical services Dr David Walker said clear communication from local authorities minimised vaccine hesitancy and kept residents rolling up their sleeves.

A group of heath care professionals in a hall with locals about to receive their second vaccination shot

Barcaldine locals line up as CWHHS staff and Queensland Ambulance Service personnel prepare to administer the second round of AstraZeneca doses at the vaccination clinic in the Barcaldine Shire Hall.(

Supplied: CWHHS

)

“We’ve been really well supported by a fantastic communications team who have worked tirelessly to help get our message across,” he said.

“We like to think that we do our best here locally to clear up as much confusion as we can.”

Barcaldine Regional Council mayor Sean Dillon said the clear messaging delivered locally gave residents confidence and “saved the vaccine rollout”.

What it means for region

With fears about how transmission is occurring in settings “never seen before” in other parts of the country, a high vaccination rate of the western Queensland population may help protect locals from COVID-19 if it does make its way to the outback.

While it’s a concern for Cr Dillon, he said systems were now in place to rapidly address the virus if a confirmed case was found in the region.

A man in a bright blue shirt and jeans patting his campdrafting horse

Barcaldine Regional Council mayor Sean Dillon says being vaccinated gives him a degree of comfort to travel to Brisbane or Canberra.(

ABC Rural: Lydia Burton

)

In the event of a confirmed case, Cr Dillon said, it would now come down to the tracing and tracking of where individuals had been.

He said there would be fewer concerns because of the reduced viral load in people who have been vaccinated.

How exactly the vaccine effects a body’s immunity to COVID-19 is too early to tell and booster shots may be required in future.

On Monday, June 9, the CWHHS vaccination program will move to Longreach and residents there are being encouraged to book ahead to get their second dose of AstraZeneca.

Dr Walker said health authorities also would be able to start delivering the Pfizer vaccine in the region from mid-June.

Nearly half of outback region’s adults fully vaccinated
Source:
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