By Lucy Carroll and Mary Ward
January 27, 2022 — 6.24pm
NSW’s vaccination hubs can administer at least 100,000 more booster jabs a week than they are currently achieving with health officials warning that valuable staff are being left idle with the program running at half-capacity.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard expressed concern about booster uptake on Thursday, after the Herald published data showing fewer than a third of eligible adults had received their booster shot in parts of south-west Sydney, with the city’s western suburbs falling well behind parts of the north and east.
About 42 per cent of eligible adults in the state have received a booster dose or third shot, after eligibility at NSW Health clinics was expanded last week to include people who received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine three months ago.
“The number of boosters are not what they need to be to keep people safe – that’s the bottom line,” Mr Hazzard said.
In some areas hard hit by the Omicron surge, outreach vaccination clinics have been ramped with at least ten sites mobilised across Western Sydney to deliver booster jabs to vulnerable groups.
Western Sydney Local Health District is working with organisations such as Parramatta Mission and Settlement Services International to directly target people who may not have easy access to a local GP or other health services.
Last week the outreach program administered 300 booster jabs and dozens of child vaccines. Opening hours at the Blacktown Hospital clinic and Granville vaccination hub have also been extended.
NSW Health Deputy Secretary Susan Pearce said the state’s 40 vaccination clinics could administer more than 250,000 vaccination a week, at least 100,000 more than it is currently delivering.
At Royal North Shore Hospital on Thursday all seven COVID-19 patients in intensive care had not received a third dose.
Of the 29 COVID-19 deaths reported on Thursday, four had received booster shots, while 16 had received two doses and nine were not fully vaccinated. Two people were aged in their 60s, eight in their 70s, 13 in their 80s and six in their 90s.
Dr Pearce said there was a “perception in the community” that Omicron was milder, so a booster was not necessary and that people who had been infected did not need a booster shot.
“We know that to prevent severe disease associated with COVID, that booster is absolutely critical,” she said.
Since the start of the Omicron outbreak, Mr Perrottet has repeatedly referred to this variant of COVID-19 as “milder” than its predecessor, Delta, using the reduced severity of illness caused by infection to justify not moving to harsher pandemic restrictions.
NSW Health advises people who have been infected with COVID-19 recently wait four to six weeks before having their booster shot. All other adults are eligible for the shot three months after their second dose.
Mr Hazzard said it was becoming a strain on health staff to operate vaccination hubs with low uptake, noting the nurses left to stand at quiet clinics were being taken away from other roles – including in stretched hospitals.
Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said anyone who was over the age of 65 or had a chronic underlying health condition should make urgent plans to receive a booster shot if they had not already, as well as people who come into contact with these groups.
“People that are double vaccinated who may think ‘that’s enough to get me through’, I urge you to get boosted so you protect the elderly, your broader family, your people that you may not be aware have chronic underlying health conditions,” she said.
However the number of COVID-positive people in hospital and intensive care each day has plateaued over the past week. There were 2722 in hospital and 181 in ICU on Thursday.
Data from the NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation showed the number of weekly COVID-positive admissions had declined slightly, from 3506 to 3433 by the week ending January 23.
Lucy Carroll is a reporter covering health for The Sydney Morning Herald.Connect via Twitter or email.
Mary Ward is a health reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.Connect via Twitter or email.
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