SA Health deputy chief executive Don Frater told a parliamentary committee hearing this morning that authorities “don’t have a problem getting people in Unley and Burnside to turn up to Wayville to get vaccinated”, but it still needed to convince those in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, or people from low socio-economic backgrounds.
“We need to change our comms [communication] and approach to reflect the concerns and needs of the CALD communities and Aboriginal communities in those areas,” he said.
“We need to both engage those community leaders and those community groups to help pull people in and also distribute information.”
Frater said as part of that work, SA Health would “particularly like to target the CALD and lower socio-economic schools and at the same time as trying to pick up those adolescents, get the family in”.
He said South Australia was in discussions with the Commonwealth Government to obtain 250,000 vaccination doses needed to vaccinate the 12 to 15 age group.
But he said SA Health was still unsure whether the Government would rely on a school-based vaccination rollout, or whether young people would be required to get vaccinated at GP clinics.
Frater, a former chief of staff to Rann Government minister Patrick Conlon, who later worked for senator Penny Wong before a series of senior public service roles, heads a specialised SA Health unit set up to provide direct oversight of the vaccine rollout.
He said South Australia was still aiming to achieve 70 to 80 per cent vaccination rate for those aged over 16 by November, but he was concerned about the uptake amongst those aged 60 to 70.
“The group that worries me the most is the 60 plus to 70s (age group), who seem to be waiting for a mRNA vaccine,” he said.
“They’re the group that concerns me a lot at the moment in the general public because they’re the ones who have a very high risk of fatalities if they catch COVID.
“At the moment we don’t have COVID in the community, so they are effectively trying to sit out and wait until they get access to a mRNA (vaccine).
“There’s a large number of people in that cohort and we need to figure out how we manage that.”
Latest federal government data shows South Australia has the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated over 50s and 70s in the country.
Just 46.19 per cent of South Australians aged over 50 have received two doses, compared to the national average of 50.82 per cent.
Over 57 per cent of South Australians aged over 70 are now fully vaccinated, below the national average of 62.23 per cent.
Frater attributed last month’s decision to open up vaccinations to all people aged over 16 as the reason for the low vaccination rate amongst older people.
He said South Australia had opened up vaccinations to younger people earlier than other states.
“We probably are down in the 50-year-old group, we are probably a bit higher in some of those younger cohorts,” he said.
Authorities push for tighter truck driver controls
Meanwhile, authorities are continuing talks with the trucking industry to prevent the spread of the virus from the eastern states.
Victoria this morning recorded 176 new coronavirus cases – an increase of more than 50 from yesterday and the biggest spike in the state over a year – while New South Wales’ tally grew by 1288, with seven deaths.
SA chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier revealed yesterday that a further two truck drivers had travelled into South Australia from the eastern states while infectious, bringing the total number of COVID-positive drivers to have entered SA in the past week to five.
Premier Steven Marshall said this morning that over 400 contacts had so far been identified after visiting exposure sites linked to the infectious drivers.
Spurrier told ABC Radio Adelaide that the freight industry had been “very, very active at maintaining… risk mitigation strategies”.
She said all five infectious truck drivers who had entered South Australia in the past week were wearing masks and got tested, but authorities were considering whether to impose additional regulations to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading through freight movement.
It comes after Spurrier told reporters yesterday that South Australia would push for National Cabinet to mandate that truck drivers get vaccinated against COVID-19 – a move the industry has warned could lead to hundreds of truck drivers walking off the job.
“What we did was have a meeting with them (the truck industry) yesterday and said, ‘look, can we just put everything on the table – what else could we do between us and you as an industry to help protect the public in South Australia until we get our vaccination rates up?’,” she told ABC Radio this morning.
“Like all Australians we’re encouraging truck drivers to be vaccinated to protect themselves as much as anything else and that includes the truck drivers in South Australia that are going into the eastern states.”
Spurrier said authorities were considering opening up pop-up vaccination clinics at popular truck stops to make it easier for drivers to get vaccinated.
She said SA Pathology was also considering introducing rapid antigen testing for truck drivers, but those tests lacked “sensitivity and specificity”, increasing the chance of false positives or negatives.
“When you don’t have disease in your community it doesn’t make it a worthwhile test,” she said.
“Even though it’s said to be rapid, you still need to wait for the result and we need to be able to get the result back into our laboratory because it’s a handheld device – it’s not plugged in to our normal system.”
Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens said suggestions such as centralising freight movement, or separating truck drivers from general patrons at petrol stations were “seriously on the table”.
“My team (and) SA Health have been talking to the freight sector right throughout the course of the pandemic – this is not a new thing,” he said.
“We’ve been on top of this for a very long time and we’ve imposed restrictions on the freight movement sector that have been very difficult for the sector to manage, so we’ve had to adapt that as well.
“It is a continuous assessment of how we can do things differently to minimise the risk, but we can’t get past the fact that we have to allow freight operators to come into South Australia and we have those based in SA going into New South Wales and Victoria delivering freight for South Australian businesses.
“That just has to happen.”
Marshall told reporters this morning that he had “no further information regarding new cases”.
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