‘We’ve got to be prepared for COVID to be in our community’

Local health authorities are begging Murraylands residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before South Australia’s borders re-open.

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“It’s not a race,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison famously said of the COVID vaccine roll-out back in March.

Yet here we are.

South Australia’s borders are due to open in 12 days’ time, allowing people to travel freely from states where there are active cases of COVID-19 in the community.

A quarantine period will still apply for travellers coming from areas where the virus is active and vaccination rates are low.

The state government had hoped 80 per cent of South Australians over the age of 15 would be fully vaccinated by the time the borders opened, which would more effectively protect us against any outbreak here.

But the Murray Bridge and Coorong districts will both fall short of that target by thousands of doses.

Only 73.8% of Murray Bridge residents have received even one dose of vaccine, according to this week’s figures, and with a minimum three-week gap between doses, it will be impossible to hit the magic number in time.

Just 59.8% of locals have received both doses.

The Coorong district is closer, with 66.1% fully vaxxed after several COVID scares at Tailem Bend, but not yet close enough.

‘It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when’

Murray Bridge’s largest GP clinic, Bridge Clinic, hit a major milestone in the vaccination race on Monday: their doctors and nurses have now administered 10,000 doses of vaccine.

Still, clinic general manager Sally Jarrett worried that the community still had a long way to go.

“A lot of people say ‘it’s not here, so I don’t need to be vaccinated’,” she said.

“But it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

“We’ve got to be prepared for COVID to be in our community.”

Data from New South Wales has shown that unvaccinated people are 16 times more likely to end up in intensive care, and 16 times more likely to die, than people who are fully vaccinated.

In focus: Vaccination among COVID-19 cases in the NSW delta outbreak
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Ms Jarrett didn't care whether people got vaccinated at her clinic, a pharmacy or somewhere else, she said – she just wanted them to get vaccinated.

Bridge Clinic doctor David Butler said the vaccines were safe and effective.

“Our experience has been that the vaccines have proven very safe and well tolerated, with only minor, temporary side effects, and only for some people,” he said.

‘Other people’s health will potentially be jeopardised’

As the president of Rural Doctors Association of South Australia, Murray Bridge doctor Peter Rischbieth has a fair idea about the state of play in the fight against COVID-19.

The low vaccination rate has him concerned.

“We’ve already got a nursing and doctor shortage in a number of Riverland Mallee Coorong towns,” he said.

“Our workforce is already stretched, but it will be stretched even more if we have to spend more time looking after COVID patients.

“Other people’s health will potentially be jeopardised.”

The Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network had been planning a response to a potential outbreak of about 200 cases in the region, he said.

For reference, there have only been 918 cases in South Australia since the pandemic began.

Brad Smedley and Josh Simpson give a thumbs-up after being vaccinated at Tailem Bend on Saturday. Photo: Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network/Facebook.

Most of the new cases would be able to receive treatment in isolation at home, perhaps including video calls with GPs or specialists; but some would need to be taken to hospital by ambulance crews who were already busy.

Dr Rischbieth worried that authorities might place local government areas with low vaccination rates in lockdown, NSW-style, with all the economic and mental health consequences that would bring; or cancel all community sport.

The best way to avoid that, he said, would be to – you guessed it – get vaccinated.

“The evidence is clear that this is the only way we’re going to get on top of this,” he said.

The race is on.

Where to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Clarification: This story has been updated with information about the quarantine requirement which will still apply for travellers from local government areas interstate where vaccination rates are below 80% and COVID-19 is being transmitted in the community.

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