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Southern COVID-19 vaccination clinic opens in Dunedin Central - Clinics also underway in Invercargill and planned for other areas

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The Southern COVID-19 vaccine rollout today begins the vaccination of all front-line health workers in Otago and Southland, with the first permanent facility being opened in central Dunedin, clinics underway in Invercargill and plans to roll them out in other areas in coming weeks.

Southern DHB Chief Executive Chris Fleming welcomed the opening of clinics to begin, in the first instance, vaccination of the district’s front-line health workers, saying “having faced the challenge and disruptions caused by COVID-19 over the past year, it is a great relief to now have the opportunity to be rolling out a vaccine to protect our population”.

While vaccination of Southern’s front-line health workers begins this week, vaccination of the general population will take place in the second half of the year, based on guidance from the Ministry of Health.

Southern COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Incident Controller, Hamish Brown outlined the magnitude of the Southern rollout which is now gathering pace as we progress with putting in place a system to offer the vaccination to all people in Southern aged 16 years and over. 

“While exciting and important, it is, however, a complex logistical task, given the sheer volumes of people we need to reach, the geographical size of our district, and logistical constraints of the Pfizer vaccine.

“We need to tailor our delivery, so we not only meet the needs of our front-line workers throughout the district but also we meet the needs of Southern residents, whether they live in a large city or small rural community. There are different logistical challenges in different locations. Nevertheless, we are working together to accomplish this important task that offers us a pathway to the safety and freedoms we have been missing for the past year,” he says.

Around 575,000 vaccinations are required for our population, which covers everyone 16+ to receive the required two doses, three weeks apart.  It is a huge task that requires a system-wide effort, including from Southern DHB, WellSouth PHO, primary care, rural hospitals, pharmacies and more.

Prioritisation of when people receive the vaccine is based on national guidance from the Ministry of Health.  Plus, there are some constraints around storage and use of the vaccine, which needs to be stored in super low temperature freezers and used within 5 days of leaving cold storage.

An Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for the Southern rollout  is operating out of Wakari Hospital, with staff seconded in from various parts of the health system, including Southern DHB, rural hospitals and WellSouth.  This is being led by Hamish Brown, and Karl Metzler, Chief Executive of Gore Health Ltd.  Their task is to provide support at an executive level to ensure that the programme is planned and rolled out effectively, taking into account all the challenges, the sequencing and the logistics associated with the vaccination's cold chain.

To deliver the large number of vaccinations that will be required each day to work through our population (hundreds a day in the short to medium term, and thousands a day in the medium to long term), permanent vaccination clinics will be essential in the short term and to supplement Primary Care delivery in the long term.  Other challenges include that we are currently working with an interim booking system, whilst a dedicated electronic booking system is being put in place, so we thank people for their understanding while this is being worked through. We are also continuing to recruit the workforce required for this vaccination rollout, which includes additional training around the COVID-19 vaccine and procedures, plus finding new people to train and develop for the longer term.

Port Workers

The first people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Southern were port workers at Port Otago, South Port and NZAS Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter which has an international berth.  More than 420 people have already received their first dose of the vaccine, including a small number of health staff involved with vaccinations and swabbing. These people started receiving their second dose of the vaccine last week.

Household Contacts

Vaccination of Southern port workers’ household contacts also began last week at Wakari Hospital Dunedin and Murihiku Marae in Invercargill.  There are about 500 people designated as household contacts in Southern.

Front-line health workers

The next group of people to be vaccinated will be all of Southern’s front-line health workers (those who have contact with patients), and work is underway to reach everyone in this large and geographically spread workforce to encourage them to book in for their vaccination by filling out a webform.  We are asking all front-line health workers to do this, regardless of which organisation they work for in Southern.  This includes aged residential care.

This week we will begin vaccinating front-line health workers at clinics in Dunedin and Invercargill. The Meridian Mall will be a permanent location for an ongoing vaccination clinic in central Dunedin. In Invercargill, clinics will run at the WellSouth Offices and Murihiku Marae in the short term, but a longer-term location for a permanent Invercargill vaccination clinic is being finalised.

Clinics for Queenstown and Central Otago are planned for mid-April.  We are working with our rural hospitals and primary care on how best we can deliver the vaccine in locations across the district.

Travel Bubble

The expected travel bubble with Australia will have implications for health and border services in Queenstown.  As well as meaning airport workers will become a priority population for vaccination, we will need to support swabbing, entry/exit screening and vaccination.  We are currently working through this with our primary care and hospital colleagues there.

Other Residents

Prioritisation of when people receive the vaccine is based on national guidance from the Ministry of Health.  The Ministry of Health estimates that people who are at higher risk (Group 3) have an estimated start date for vaccinations of May 2021.  For Group 4, the General Population, the Ministry of Health has estimated start date of July 2021.

Mr Brown says, “In Southern, our plans are consistent with the Ministry of Health’s approach of starting with few sites for targeted groups, and then ramping up to a more distributed model involving primary care and other providers.  We are also guided by the Ministry on engagement with stakeholders and the public. 

“The Southern COVID-19 vaccine rollout is a large and complex task and we thank all the dedicated individuals, organisations, rūnaka and members of the public for their understanding as we work to deliver this important vaccine to our community.”