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With the first COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Australia today, the National Rural Health Alliance is urging Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to ensure that vulnerable people in rural, regional and remote Australia are prioritised for vaccination.

Speaking as the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was green-lit, Alliance CEO Gabrielle O’Kane said, ‘People in rural, regional and remote communities experience poorer health outcomes than those in major cities, which puts them in a higher risk category for serious health complications associated with COVID-19.

‘It is also much harder to access health services in country areas because we have the situation of persistent inadequate staffing and lack of availability to essential medical and health services in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia,’ she said.

‘As government launches this unprecedented vaccination rollout, rural Australia is at an unacceptable basis of disadvantage, and we urge the government to acknowledge the disparity in rural health access and outcomes when classifying priority groups for vaccination.’

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Rollout plan

Minister Hunt recently announced details of the vaccination program, which will be conducted through vaccination hubs, Commonwealth-funded GP-led Respiratory Clinics, Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Services, private GP practices and community pharmacies.

‘Medical bodies, the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have warned of the logistical challenges of this undertaking in rural, regional and remote areas,’ said Ms O’Kane.

‘The Alliance is confident in the Commonwealth’s ability to lead this major public health initiative, but we urge that rural, regional and remote Australians aren’t left by the wayside,’ she said.

‘Achieving a swift and effective vaccine rollout to reach the 7-million people living in rural, regional and remote communities will require the cooperation of every organisation and health professional in the vaccine supply chain,’ Gabrielle O’Kane concluded.

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