AS the Australian Government begins to form its final COVID vaccination rollout strategy, medical centres and pharmacies across Bathurst are getting prepared to play their part.
Vaccinations are expected to begin in late February/early March, with initial stages limited to only doctors providing vaccines, however the large population and number of doses required means that other health professionals will be required to help.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) was pushing for pharmacies to be engaged as early as possible to ensure people are getting vaccinated as quickly and smoothly.
PSA national president, Associate Professor Chris Freeman, said the rollout would be an "all hands on deck" approach requiring pharmacists to play a major role in immunising communities, a position that owner and pharmacist at Moodie's Pharmacy, Paul Jones, agrees with.
"We get regular updates as to what is happening and we know the government is looking at a five stage plan which explains where everyone will fit in," he said.
"COVID isn't going away and we need to learn to live with it and these vaccinations are aimed at herd immunity."
The government's five stage strategy is based on demographics including age and occupation, with those more vulnerable to be vaccinated first and progress through to those least at risk.
Mr Jones said he is hoping for a strong uptake once vaccinations begin and is expecting to be involved from the second stage of the rollout
"Pharmacy staff will be vaccinated as part of Phase 1b and currently are expected to provide vaccinations in Phase 2a onwards," he said.
"We are hoping the final strategy will allow us to also provide vaccinations in Phase 1b because the quicker everyone gets immunised the better.
"You only need to look at the northern hemisphere's winter where there was a big spike in COVID cases and fatalities.
"That's something we definitely want to avoid and our vaccination rollout across autumn hopefully means we can be on top of things before winter hits."
Marcus Heiner, pharmacist and owner of Capital Chemist, said that it was important for pharmacists to be involved in providing vaccinations, especially given the shortage of GPs across the region.
"The vaccinations themselves are quick and simple to administer, but you also need to monitor a patient for 15 minutes afterwards to check for any adverse reactions," he said.
"Realistically, one person could only safely immunise six patients per hour, so given local and national populations, it will be a case of everyone helping out."
A big concern for the government are reports from overseas that only 80 per cent of patients are returning for their second dose.
Mr Heiner said this is something Australia needs to avoid as it would render first doses ineffective and be a waste.
"All patient details are recorded and uploaded to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR), so the government will no doubt contact people to receive their second dose at the 21 day mark required," he said.
"We will also be contacting people via SMS to remind them to drop back in and complete their vaccinations."
Pharmacies are expecting a big uptake on vaccinations and Mr Heiner said that bookings will more than likely be required.
"With the time to administer, monitor patients and complete admin, we certainly will be looking at taking bookings," he said.
"It's important for people to remember that the vaccinations are free.
"The more people getting immunised, the better because life can start getting back to normal."