With NSW supplies of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine being redirected to Sydney HSC students, some Bega Valley residents have found themselves left hanging.
The Bega District News has been contacted by several district residents who at the weekend had their booked vaccination appointments cancelled by South East Regional Hospital.
Oliver Franklin said he was only days away from his first inoculation when he checked his emails to find one informing him the appointment had been cancelled.
He said it was reportedly because NSW Health was assisting Year 12 students in Sydney by redirecting batches of Pfizer previously scheduled for regional areas.
"They said 'we'll contact you in coming weeks to reorganise something'," Mr Franklin said.
"I can understand if they have reasons for delaying the second shot, but don't cancel the first appointment.
"It will be a logistical nightmare and crazy to think this is emergency management - taking it out of regional areas at this time is insane."
The 55-year-old has health issues including temporal lobe epilepsy and asthma, and mobility issues confine him to his home most of the time.
He said initially he was eligible for the vaccine under the 1B rollout, but - given his health issues and travelling being out of the question - he had to wait until the vaccines arrived at his local hospital before being able to book an appointment.
"I was advised it might be better to wait anyway, with the bad rap Astra Zeneca was getting. Over time I felt quite pleased [about the delay] with Pfizer coming."
Now he's had to try re-booking a spot, September at this stage, but said with the way the situation was changing by the day "the booking is not worth the paper it's written on if it can be cancelled anytime".
He's not alone, with a new mother of an eight-week-old notified on Sunday via SMS that her appointment at SERH for the first Pfizer vaccine had also been cancelled.
She has since been able to re-book through a local medical practice.
Mr Franklin said his wife still has her current hospital booking - for now.
"They said if she is not bumped in the next 48 hours then we can decide which if us gets that first shot.
"She wants me to take it, but she works as a carer for others and is the one who can drive - that we have to decide is mad.
"And I'm sure you'll find others in more serious situations than me."
GPs unaffected by reallocation
NSW Health confirmed at the weekend that to support Year 12 students returning to face-to-face learning for their HSC, it was redirecting Pfizer vaccines from across the state as "an important temporary measure".
"As a result, people in other regions could receive a notice advising their first dose of Pfizer will be rescheduled," a NSW Health spokesperson said.
"Anyone who has had their first dose already, or those in priority groups 1a or 1b will not have their bookings rescheduled.
"GPs continue to supply Pfizer vaccinations in regional NSW, and their supplies from the federal government are unaffected by this reallocation.
"AstraZeneca also remains available from GPs, NSW Health clinics and a growing number of pharmacies."
Mr Franklin said he had also been in touch with Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain's office. Ms McBain was vocal last week about regional communities being left high and dry by the government's "failed vaccine rollout".
"I am contacted by Eden-Monaro residents every day who are struggling to get vaccinated," Ms McBain said.
"In Queanbeyan, people have told me that they are having to wait up to three months to get a vaccination. While in some of our remote towns, people face journeys over an hour to reach a vaccine clinic.
"Communities in the Eden-Monaro rely on transient workers and tourists to survive. They've been hit hard because of ongoing and repeated border closures and now residents and businesses are being told their health and safety isn't a priority.
"Regional communities are sick of being treated as second class citizens.
"While this is a decision by the NSW government [to redirect vaccines to metro Year 12 students], it comes as a direct result of Scott Morrison's failures in hotel quarantine and the vaccine rollout," Ms McBain said.
"It is completely unacceptable that regional NSW residents have had to bailout this government's failed vaccine rollout."
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'Rethink your strategy' says RDAA
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia has also criticised the government's move.
RDAA president John Hall said most rural communities had already been waiting months for access to the Pfizer vaccine, "with many vulnerable patients, health workers and other Priority 1A people still waiting for their first dose".
"To have their supply of Pfizer vaccines snatched from them so it can be made available to school students in Sydney is simply unacceptable," Dr Hall said.
"We need to be proactive and preventative when planning the distribution of vaccines. Every time it is removed from a rural area, another community is left vulnerable."
Dr Hall and the RDAA said protecting entire communities from COVID should be prioritised over ensuring Year 12 students can sit their exams.
"We call on the NSW government to rethink this strategy and remember that rural people need protecting too."
Call for patience
Bega GP clinics are urging the public to be patient with the administering of COVID-19 vaccines.
As the rollout ramped up through regional areas, clinics supplied with the vaccines have been bombarded with phone calls and requests for bookings.
They have said while our region remains comparatively safe, with no recorded cases in our community yet, there was no need for impatience nor animosity directed at medical staff doing their best to deliver the vaccine.
Those we've spoken to said there was no indication as yet that they wouldn't be receiving their batches of Pfizer vaccine as ordered.
That being said, Duncan MacKinnon from the Bega Valley Medical Practice said he felt it was appropriate to direct assistance to areas of greater need.
"Sydney is where COVID is and that's where people will be losing lives. While we're relatively protected from it here, I feel we should be supportive of those at higher risk.
"Any vaccine is good - COVID is much more of a risk.
"It's all a matter of prioritising need."