Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly says vaccination against Covid important in regional Australia

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said even regional and rural areas shouldn't wait to get vaccinated. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said even regional and rural areas shouldn't wait to get vaccinated. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

It could change at any time. That's the message from the Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly to people across regional and rural Australians who think there is no hurry to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

In an exclusive interview as part of ACM's Vax the Nation campaign, Professor Kelly said it was understandable many Australians might not feel a sense of urgency around vaccination, but the threat from the virus wasn't going away.

"A month ago, we had gone through 13 days of zero cases in Australia. And then there were a few cases in Melbourne that popped and and we've made that link with an escape from hotel quarantine," he said.

While this outbreak seems to be under control, the lockdown has still been hugely disruptive and created a risk for vulnerable people in the community.

In countries where COVID-19 has run rampant, vaccination has been used to keep people safe and allow the economy to open up. The situation is different in Australia, where the economy is largely open, but government modelling shows the more people who are vaccinated, the easier it will be for outbreaks to be controlled when they happen.

Outside of Melbourne, most of Australia hasn't experienced real risk of contracting the virus in the community, but towns like Forbes, Moree and Goondiwindi, named as exposure sites for the virus after a couple infected with coronavirus travelled through, show the virus isn't only an issue in one or two cities.

"It looks like they probably were infected some time ago, non infectious, the couple that travelled, but that's how it would start, it could start at any time," Professor Kelly said.

"And eventually, we're going to open up the borders. We have to. Not straightaway, but the virus will come here. And I think there's a rising realisation that we will have to live with the virus in Australia."

Vaccination isn't only about making a decision to protect yourself, but protecting those around you, he said.

"The more people that are vaccinated, that's our way of protecting each other and ourselves."

Professor Kelly encouraged a rethink on getting vaccinated, pointing out the lightning-fast development of multiple options was something to celebrate.

"This is a huge privilege that we have, to have a vaccine so quickly that works so well, and is for the vast majority of people very safe. Now's the time if you're eligible, please roll up the sleeves and get the jab."

Studies of vaccine hesitancy in Australia show about a third of Australians say they are unlikely to get the vaccine, and Professor Kelly said those who were nervous about side effects shouldn't be afraid to chat about their options with their doctor.

"That's a very reasonable human experience to be nervous about something that's new," he said.

"Take note of the medical experts, they've done all of that work about balancing risk and benefit, but also talk to your GP and get that message from your trusted advisor, because they know you, they know your particular circumstances."

Acknowledging there is some consternation in the community among people in their 50s, who feel close to the age cut-off at which currently only the AstraZeneca vaccine is available, Professor Kelly said vaccination wasn't compulsory.

"There is a choice, the choice is to wait. Now I don't think that's the right choice," he said.

"The benefit for people in their 50s to have the vaccine right now outweighs the risk by a long way. There is a risk of dying of Covid, there is a risk of very serious Covid, there is a risk of long Covid and 50-year-olds are at higher risk than 40-year-olds and 30-year-olds, and the risk of this clotting issue is extremely low."

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Australia's vaccine rollout is set to move up a level in the coming weeks, with the first people to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine to begin receiving their second doses, and the weekly delivery of Pfizer vaccine doses to double to around 600,000 a week.

The government is also in talks with Pfizer in the hope the bigger shipments of their vaccines scheduled for October can be brought forward to September.

This story It's an arms race: Kelly says don't wait on jab first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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