The Rural Doctors Association says a “significant number” of doctors in country Australia have missed the COVID-19 jab.
“There are frontline workers in emergency departments in rural Australia who still haven’t been vaccinated,” association President Dr John Hall told AAP.
Doctors should have received the Pfizer jab weeks as ago as part of stage 1A of the rollout and many are still waiting for AstraZeneca shots as part of stage 1B, he said.
“Rural clinicians are used to being left behind, being an afterthought,” Dr Hall said.
He’s blamed state governments for the delays, saying some “dropped the ball” on getting Pfizer to rural clinicians, while others made a conscious decision to wait for stage 1B.
“It’s disappointing to see rural clinicians on the front line missing out … many colleagues haven’t even been contacted about phase 1A,” he said.
State and territory governments have been responsible for rolling out the Pfizer jab to eligible frontline health workers in phase 1A.
Dr Hall says the delays have come as clinicians are experiencing stress, exhaustion and burnout because hard border closures meant many were unable to access locum backup for most of 2020.
He says the association has been especially concerned by the situation in Queensland, which is currently dealing with a COVID outbreak, saying the state’s health department has been “particularly lacklustre” in getting shots out to rural doctors.
“They missed out the whole of regional Queensland, they had no intention of pushing Pfizer into those regional cities,” he told AAP.
“We told the federal government it was unacceptable but it was too little, too late.”
But a Queensland Health spokesperson told AAP the department was proud of its efforts to deliver vaccinations to its workforce across the state, and the state’s six initial Pfizer hubs had been chosen on their closeness to international airports and quarantine hotels.
As AstraZeneca vaccine had become more readily available, Queensland Health had been able to offer vaccines to “priority 1A eligible individuals” across a wider area.
The state has vaccinated more than 53,000 people in week five of its vaccination campaign.
The Queensland Health website says healthcare workers face a higher risk of COVID infection and illness, and might also be responsible for transmitting the virus to vulnerable patients.
Vaccines are currently available at at 33 hospitals and via 17 outreach clinics in Queensland, including Roma Hospital, Mount Isa Base Hospital, Emerald Hospital and Thursday Island.
More than 860 health workers have been vaccinated at Central West Hospital and Health Service, more than 430 at Torres and Cape Hospital, over 940 at Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service and more than 4500 at Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service.
The federal government said healthcare workers eligible under phase 1A can now also access the vaccine at their GP in stage 1B, as well as at state and territory vaccine clinics.
“There is no hard barrier between priority phases and the commencement of the next phase is not dependent on completely vaccinating the previous phase,” the health department said in a statement.
Globally, more than 150,000 health workers were infected with COVID during the early stages of the pandemic, and more than 1400 died, according to the British Medical Journal of Global Health.