Hundreds of residents in aged care facilities in Illawarra's northern suburbs will be the first to receive the coronavirus vaccine from Monday, as the first week of the national rollout begins.
Facilities in Corrimal, Tarrawanna, Woonona, Thirroul and Stanwell Park are among 240 aged care homes around the country to be visited by a flying squad of nurse immunisers administering the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Aged care and disability residents and staff are included in phase 1a of the rollout, as well as quarantine and border workers and frontline health workers.
Last Friday IRT CEO Patrick Reid said staff at two of its northern Illawarra facilities were busy preparing for the rollout, which will see more than 250 residents vaccinated at the facilities on Tuesday.
"We are currently working hard to get consent in place from our residents or their next-of-kin, and making sure they're fully informed," he said.
"The vaccine is not compulsory but is strongly encouraged, particularly in people over 65, so we're making sure people have all the information they require and are working to debunk the myths.
"We also have to ensure suitability - residents may be on certain medications or have conditions that don't lend them to having the vaccine, at least at this stage."
Mr Reid said IRT was rostering on additional staff from Monday, to assist the Healthcare Australia vaccination team, and to closely monitor their residents after the jab.
"It's a two-dose regime, with the next dose to be given in 21 days," he said. "As when our residents get the flu vaccine, we will closely monitor them for half-an-hour post injection, and then check on them throughout the day.
"We keep a close eye on our residents anyway, but will have more staff available to ensure they're all safe, sound and comfortable."
Mr Reid, also a pharmacist, said misinformation about the vaccine was the biggest threat to vaccinating enough people to reach herd immunity.
"We've seen from the overseas experience, and outbreaks in NSW and Victoria, that this particular virus is very detrimental to people aged over 75," he said.
"We want to protect people in aged care, and those in the community as well, and the best way to do that is herd immunity.
"Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are free, safe and have been approved by the TGA."
Mr Reid said the vaccine rollout was a "gamechanger" for the community.
"It's been a long 12 months with fires, floods and then COVID," he said. "This is a big step towards getting back to normal."
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Warrigal CEO Mark Sewell said just one of its aged care facilities - in Canberra - was included in the first week of vaccinations. Preparations were fast and furious.
"We are very pleased that older people and their frontline care staff are given top priority for the first vaccine available, but the rush in the first week to do the people that live and work in over 200 aged care homes (across Australia) is creating quite a scramble," he said.
"We sincerely apologise to any families that feel rushed when asked to urgently consider their loved one's needs and to give a formal consent to receive the vaccine.
"Aged care staff will be monitoring every single person who receives the vaccine very carefully and making sure they are well and achieve the maximum benefit from this extraordinary global project that has now begun in Australia."
In addition to the Commonwealth-led in-reach vaccination workforce visiting aged and disability care facilities, initially there'll be 16 Pfizer vaccine hubs operated by state and territories across the nation.
In NSW these will first be at RPA, Westmead and Liverpool hospitals, and in the coming weeks more hubs will open including one at Wollongong Hospital.
Illawarra's frontline workers however will be able to travel to Sydney for the vaccine in the initial phase according to NSW Health.
As the vaccination program expands, general practices and pharmacies across the nation will join the effort to provide vaccines for the rest of the community.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is due to join the rollout from early March.
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