First Queensland recipient of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine Bundaberg Hospital Emergency Department Nurse Unit Manager Suzanne Smith with vaccinator Sherine Binder.
First Queensland recipient of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine Bundaberg Hospital Emergency Department Nurse Unit Manager Suzanne Smith with vaccinator Sherine Binder.

Vaccinations for Coast frontline workers edge closer

Frontline workers at Bundaberg Hospital have begun receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, with those in Hervey Bay and Maryborough set to follow.

The rollout in Bundaberg began with third-generation nurse and Emergency Department Nurse Unit Manager Suzanne Smith.

She was the first person in Queensland to received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Ms Smith’s day-to-day role brings her into contact with suspected COVID-positive patients, making her determined to lead the effort to get the jab and be protected.

Bundaberg Hospital Intensive Care Unit Clinical Director Dr Doug Wilkinson was the first doctor in Queensland to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service chief executive Debbie Carroll said it was exciting to see the vaccine now becoming available in Wide Bay, following launches of Pfizer hubs in Cairns and several south-east Queensland locations in the past fortnight.

“It’s taken a significant coordination effort at all levels to get to this position, but as the supply of more vaccine now becomes available, I’m thrilled to say that we’re ready to start our local rollout,” Ms Carroll said.

“Our first AstraZeneca vaccination hub – vaccinating priority group 1a – has opened today in Bundaberg and we’ll look to open other locations across our HHS as soon as we can.”

WBHHS executive director of Nursing and Midwifery Services Fiona Sewell, who has led WBHHS’s local vaccine rollout effort, said the Bundaberg team hoped to vaccinate dozens of people on its first day.

“We intend to have many more vaccinated within the next few weeks,” Ms Sewell said.

“Before too long, as more supply becomes available, we will commence vaccinating in Maryborough and Hervey Bay and we’ll then begin our rural outreach clinics, which will significantly increase the numbers of our staff and other local high-risk individuals who will be protected.

“These include healthcare workers in private hospitals, as well as other at-risk workers such as police, paramedics, and other emergency services personnel.”

Wide Bay Public Health Physician Dr Niall Conroy said the establishment of vaccination hubs in Wide Bay was an important step in the community’s ongoing COVID-19 recovery.

“The vaccine is our best chance at protecting our community and getting our normal way of life back on track, so it’s critical that we can first start offering this important extra level of protection to our frontline healthcare workers and other at-risk individuals,” Dr Conroy said.

“While the immediate focus of the rollout is on those most at risk of exposure to COVID-19 through their day-to-day work, or of suffering severe illness from the virus, I want to reassure everyone that all those who are able to be vaccinated will have the opportunity as soon as possible.

“I’m also really impressed with the leadership our staff have shown in the workplace and the community, both throughout the pandemic and now as the vaccine is starting to roll out.

“I hope a lot of people will follow their lead and protect themselves once the vaccine becomes more widely available to the general public.”

Ms Smith said she’d learned a lot of lessons from history and felt privileged to be helping to lead the effort towards a safer future.

“My gran was a nurse and told me of the many children she cared for with diphtheria, and how she lost a niece to that dreadful disease,” Ms Smith said.

“My mum, another nurse, spoke of polio cases in the 1950s – the debilitating effects of it, and of nursing those patients for months in iron lungs.

“Thankfully, both of these diseases are largely part of our past thanks to mass immunisation of the population.

“Now COVID-19 is the threat to our society and our way of life. And it’s our turn to take the step to be immunised, to protect ourselves and the vulnerable people in our community we care for.”

Registered Nurse Michelle Cooper, who works in the Bundaberg fever clinic, was also among the first to be vaccinated and said she was excited to have been given the opportunity in the initial stage of the rollout.

“I’m getting vaccinated to protect myself, my family and the patients I work with each day,” Ms Cooper said.

“In the fever clinic, I’m on the front line, so the vaccine is an extra layer of protection that gives me reassurance.

“Like any vaccine, you get some people who are unsure, but you need to consider the worst-case scenario. I have overseas friends whose family members have died from COVID-19. That’s why I think this vaccine is so important.”