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    Grampians Public Health Unit specialist Dr Robert Grenfell

COVID vaccine boosters critical for new year

By Dean Lawson

Regional health leaders have urged western Victorians preparing for Christmas celebrations to get booster COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as they are eligible.

They have also suggested people planning Christmas get-togethers be wary and to take precautions to protect elderly and fragile family members.

Suggestions also include people testing themselves for the disease with rapid antigen tests, available at chemists, before Christmas gatherings as a safeguard.

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Grampians Public Health Unit, overseeing the Wimmera response to the pandemic, has also warned that public events involving many people posed the greatest risks in catching and spreading the disease.

Unit specialist Dr Robert Grenfell said anyone experiencing symptoms should immediately get tested and avoid gatherings until they get results.

“If you have symptoms you need to get a test to confirm whether it’s COVID-19,” he said.

“The worst thing you could do is ignore it and go along to your Christmas function and spend six to eight hours with your close family members and spread COVID-19, particularly to some of your elders. That’s the challenge.

“Doing a rapid antigen test is one way if you’re still unsure of determining, or at least lowering your risk. Importantly, get vaccinated. I can’t say it enough.

“Some might be deferring the large family gatherings and we may be doing them as I am, in a stagger over the month.

“We are expecting a surge of cases coming our way in the weeks after the Christmas period.” 

Dr Grenfell said COVID-19’s Omicron variant might already be in western Victoria and the unit was awaiting results from latest genomic tests. 

“It would not surprise us if Omicron has already moved into our region as it has been moving across NSW,” he said.

“New variants that come through might test our methods of controlling it, but we’re still maintaining the pillars required to keep this disease under control – testing, case containment and vaccination program. This will continue with as much vigor as it has over the past year.

“Vaccination is the only way of minimising the severity of future variants.”

Mr Grenfell said it had become clear that a two-dose schedule fell short of maintaining virus immunity necessary to reduce the severity of Omicron.

“Two doses of the vaccine will and still does decrease hospitalisation compared with no vaccination based on United Kingdom data published at the weekend. So that’s reassuring for all of us in the region that have had two doses of the vaccine,” he said.

“The third dose of vaccine will increase immunity and also reduce chances of hospitalisation.

“As we’ve been seeing across the country, many people have been celebrating a lot of their newly acquired freedoms, of which we’re all very pleased to have. 

“That means we’ve had a lot of close contacts with lots of work colleagues, families and friends we haven’t seen for a while. Most of the case clusters we’re seeing now is just that – people have been enjoying pre-Christmas celebrations, work parties, break-up parties and the like. 

“And unfortunately, many people are contracting COVID-19 during this period. If you are going to contract COVID-19 around about this stage now, you almost certainly will be in quarantine for Christmas Day, which is a real downer.

“We’re seeing a lot of people are cancelling events this week, simply for that reason.”

Unit operators director Robyn Wilson said vaccine availability was assured across the region and a vaccine program for children aged five to 11 was due to start on January 10.

Grampians Health’s Wimmera Base Hospital, meanwhile, will reintroduce drive-through testing services amid predictions of hot weather.

Drive-through facilities, in the same location as previously with entry from Arnott Street, Horsham, will resume from 9am, today.

Wimmera Health Care Group clinical improvement, risk and innovation director Sally Taylor said the decision was in response to concerns about people standing in line on hot days.

 “Our testing numbers are definitely climbing,” she said.

“We tested more than 1650 people in November and that is the biggest month since the pandemic began.

“On Sunday we tested 139 and the lowest daily tally for last week was 75, so we are definitely on the increase.

“If the numbers are high then people are standing longer in the queues and on hot days they simply won’t be safe. It will be a smaller marquee with a single line of traffic and we will be testing asymptomatic people and those with COVID-19 symptoms. 

“The testing will be more streamlined than last time, but everyone needs to use a QR code that is available on our website and Facebook pages as well as in newspaper advertising. After you QR code, you will receive a unique number that you will need to provide at the testing site.”

Mrs Taylor said she expected drive-through testing to continue until at least February. 

The entire December 22, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire December 22, 2021 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!