First past the post: Rural health workers must get ahead of the COVID vaccine field

28 Jul 2021

In the race to pro­tect the pop­u­la­tion from COVID, peak rur­al health bod­ies are unit­ed in their call for rur­al health work­ers to have pri­or­i­ty access to COVID vac­cines, as their risk of expo­sure increas­es across some states. 

The Rur­al Doc­tors Asso­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia (RDAA), the Aus­tralian Col­lege of Rur­al and Remote Med­i­cine (ACR­RM) and CRANAplus Inc, are urg­ing state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments to sort out the cur­rent access issues. 

Rur­al and remote health ser­vices need pro­tect­ing and the best way to do that is to ensure the work­force is ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed,” RDAA Pres­i­dent Dr John Hall said. 

With cas­es of health work­ers being unknow­ing­ly exposed across sev­er­al sites now, the best way we can ensure their health and safe­ty, and that of their patients, is to tar­get them in the roll­out of the vaccines. 

As it cur­rent­ly stands, they are in an ever-increas­ing cohort of eli­gi­bil­i­ty, and there is no way for the sys­tem to pri­ori­tise them. 

Their ser­vices are essen­tial and instead of being pushed to the front, they are being over­run by the sheer num­ber of peo­ple now eli­gi­ble for the Pfiz­er vac­cine in particular. 

Sup­plies of this vac­cine have always been lim­it­ed in rur­al areas, mean­ing that many have been unable to gain ear­ly access despite their Pri­or­i­ty 1A status.” 

ACR­RM Pres­i­dent, Dr Sarah Chalmers, said that expo­sure of the med­ical teams in rur­al and remote towns can eas­i­ly com­pro­mise their entire health care services. 

In small com­mu­ni­ties with small­er health ser­vices, the expo­sure of any of the team can com­plete­ly bring down their abil­i­ty to pro­vide care,” Dr Chalmers said.

If they end up actu­al­ly sick with COVID, and are off work for a sus­tained peri­od of time, with so few staff mem­bers and extreme­ly lim­it­ed abil­i­ty to access the locum work­force – not only because of their remote loca­tion but because they would also be a COVID expo­sure site – the capac­i­ty of the health ser­vices would be severe­ly dimin­ished and the surge capac­i­ty in case of a com­mu­ni­ty out­break would be min­i­mal.

We need to give all of these work­ers access to the vac­cines ASAP, ahead of any poten­tial out­break.

Act­ing CEO of CRANAplus, Amelia Druhan, said that urgent solu­tions were need­ed.

We imme­di­ate­ly need changes to the eli­gi­bil­i­ty check­er so that Pri­or­i­ty 1A groups are able to go to the front of the queue,” Ms Druhan said.

There is con­fu­sion between the Fed­er­al gov­ern­ment Pri­or­i­ty lists, and the State coor­di­nat­ed roll­outs of Pfiz­er through their hubs. This needs to stop.”

Oth­er solu­tions the rur­al peaks are call­ing for include:

  • ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed fly-in teams to vac­ci­nate health care work­ers along with res­i­den­tial aged care and dis­abil­i­ty work­ers as they did with aged care residents
  • a nation­al reg­is­ter of health care pro­fes­sion­als to address any work­force short­ages as they arise
  • a well-coor­di­nat­ed strat­e­gy to give locums the abil­i­ty to move across the coun­try as need­ed to pro­vide care to com­mu­ni­ties in need.

Avail­able for inter­view: RDAA Pres­i­dent, Dr John Hall
ACR­RM Pres­i­dent, Dr Sarah Chalmers
CRANAplus Act­ing CEO, Amelia Druhan

Con­tacts: RDAA: Ineke Kuiper, 0408 669 638
ACR­RM: Pet­ri­na Smith, 0414 820 847
CRANAplus: via RDAA