MPs want more Hunter coronavirus vaccine doses as Sydney COVID numbers hit new record

 SECOND SHOT: Liz Varley, 23, of Maitland, after receiving her second shot of Pfizer, yesterday, at the Belmont vaccination hub. She says younger people are 'coming around to the need' to get jabbed. Picture: Marina Neil
SECOND SHOT: Liz Varley, 23, of Maitland, after receiving her second shot of Pfizer, yesterday, at the Belmont vaccination hub. She says younger people are 'coming around to the need' to get jabbed. Picture: Marina Neil

AS NSW recorded its worst day yet with 1218 COVID cases, 23-year-old Liz Varley of Maitland was among the throngs of Hunter residents being vaccinated yesterday.

As someone who faced the public at work over the counter in a food outlet, and who has a relative in the ambulance service, Ms Varley said it had been an easy enough choice to be vaccinated.

Yesterday was her second shot of Pfizer.

"My dad's in the control centre and I'm in the shop, so the possibility of getting it (COVID) and passing it on does play on your mind," Ms Varley said.

"I haven't been asked by work (to get a jab) but I was booked in pretty early. I think a lot of people my age are seeing what is happening and are coming around to the idea of being vaccinated."

Australia's late start to vaccination - "it's not a race" became "it's a race" - means were are demonstrably behind other developed nations when it comes to inoculation rates.

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The latest OECD figures show Iceland at the top with 76 per cent of its population fully vaccinated with two shots.

Three nations are in the 70s, eight in the 60s, 13 in the 50s, seven in the 40s and one in the 30s.

The graph tails out with Columbia 28 per cent, South Korea 27 per cent, Australia 26 per cent, Mexico 25 per cent, New Zealand 21 per cent and Costa Rica 19 per cent.

STREET VENDORS: Some of the crew at the Windale pop-up testing clinic yesterday, doing their best to drum up passing trade. Picture: Marina Neil

STREET VENDORS: Some of the crew at the Windale pop-up testing clinic yesterday, doing their best to drum up passing trade. Picture: Marina Neil

If Australia lags overall vaccination rates, official figures also show considerable variation from region to region.

Some parts of the Hunter are above the national 26 per cent rate: Port Stephens on 33.8 per cent fully vaccinated, Lake Macquarie on 33 percent and Newcastle on 32.2 per cent lead the region.

The Hunter's lowest vaccination rates are at Muswellbrook, where 20.8 per cent have had two jabs, then Cessnock, with 22.4 per cent and Singleton, with 23.9 per cent.

HUNTER VACCINATION RATES: first dose, fully vaccinated

- Cessnock: 48.6%, 22.4%

- Dungog: 61.9%, 31%

- Lake Macquarie: 61.3%, 33%

- Maitland: 55.8%, 28.5%

- Muswellbrook: 46.5%, 20.8%

- Newcastle: 57.9%, 32.2%

- Port Stephens: 62.2%, 33.8%

- Singleton 51.6%, 23.9%

- Upper: 59.1%, 33.6%

The Labor federal member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, said "moderate levels of vaccine hesitancy and our very low COVID-19 cases" were two reasons for the low take-up rates.

"But the primary problem is a lack of Pfizer vaccines for the young and those with underlying health problems who have been advised against receiving AstraZeneca," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

MAKING SURE: Michael Dubois at Windale yesterday. The 57-year-old was having his first vaccination shot this week and wanting to be sure. Picture: Marina Neil

MAKING SURE: Michael Dubois at Windale yesterday. The 57-year-old was having his first vaccination shot this week and wanting to be sure. Picture: Marina Neil

"That's why I was so angry when our small allocation of Pfizer was sent back to Sydney.

"I again urge the government to provide us with more Pfizer and I urge everyone in our community to join the vaccination program."

State Labor member for Cessnock, Clayton Barr said regional NSW was "in the too-hard basket" for the Berejiklian government.

"We want to get vaccinated but we can't, because the premier is not providing access," Mr Barr said yesterday.

"We still have front-line workers waiting to have access, people classified as 1a - the highest of five priority groups - but they can't get vaccinated because we don't have access to the recommended Pfizer.

"Meanwhile, other parts of the state have so much Pfizer that the least urgent on this classification are getting shots. It's a nasty joke and Ms Berejiklian's words each morning are a cruel punchline."

The other arm of the two-pronged COVID defence strategy - that of widespread testing - was also getting a solid workout yesterday at various Hunter testing sites, including the "pop-up" facility at Windale in the wake of a positive test from a James Street resident who had recently returned from Sydney.

One of those tested yesterday was Michael Dubois, who also lives in James Street, but "up at other end".

The 57-year-old said he was not working at the moment - "I pretty much keep myself to myself' - but he was scheduled for his first vaccine shot next week and wanted "to make sure".

TWO-THIRDS TO GO: Yesterday's vaccination summary from the federal government, showing 34.2 per cent of people in Australia over 16 have been fully vaccinated.

TWO-THIRDS TO GO: Yesterday's vaccination summary from the federal government, showing 34.2 per cent of people in Australia over 16 have been fully vaccinated.

"I was worried about getting vaccinated if I had COVID, but didn't know I had it, without any symptoms," Mr Dubois said.

"This test will make sure."

Hunter New England Local Health District COVID response leader Elizabeth Grist said people were urged to come forward for vaccination provided they were not confirmed COVID cases, contacts of cases, were isolating or had symptoms.

Ms Grist said vaccine supply was a federal responsibility: bookings could be made online through the Commonwealth eligibility checker.

She said Belmont was doing 1000 AstraZeneca shots a week as well as Pfizer.

TESTING TIMES: Marli Parker of Charlestown was another of many through the James Street, Windale, test clinic yesterday. Picture: Marina Neil

TESTING TIMES: Marli Parker of Charlestown was another of many through the James Street, Windale, test clinic yesterday. Picture: Marina Neil

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This story Vax the Hunter: how many people are vaccinated in your area first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.