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The Southern Covid-19 vaccination rollout needs to be "put on steroids" to meet the Ministry of Health target of a fivefold increase in injections.
Despite challenges finding enough people to deliver the vaccinations needed in the next few weeks, Gore Health chief executive Karl Metzler, who is on secondment to the Southern District Health Board to help manage the programme, was optimistic that could be achieved.
He told an SDHB meeting yesterday the district had just passed the milestone of 20,000 people vaccinated, half of whom were frontline health workers.
A total of 4500 Southerners had now got their second dose.
"Our overall vaccination rate is still on target but it has slowed a bit, I think due to stat days.
"We have had to parachute teams into more remote rural areas, which slows production as they are only able to get through fewer vaccinations."
The vaccination of people in group 3 (people regarded as being at risk of getting very sick from Covid-19) started earlier this week and represented a major scaling up of the campaign, Mr Metzler said.
"To put it in perspective, that’s roughly 109,000 Southerners we will need to jab.
"That’s about 220,000 doses that need to happen between now and July, and we did 16,000 in all of April.
"The vaccination rollout needs to be put on steroids, basically, but we are confident that we can deliver it."
Mr Metzler said one obstacle the vaccination programme still had to clear was having enough staff to inject all those in group 3, a barrier which became higher when the remainder of the population was able to start receiving its shots.
"It is challenging because it is a very manual process, not just giving injections but also keeping information accurate and up to date."
The SDHB had received 800 expressions of interest from people wanting to help the vaccination programme, and had so far hired 112 people to fill 90 full-time equivalent positions.
"The training that those people require creates a bottleneck, which is a national issue," Mr Metzler said.
Some retired medical practitioners had been recalled to work, but as the group 4 vaccination deadline loomed, general practices and community pharmacies would play a vital role.
"Our key risk is standing up that workforce, everybody knows that ... but we are cautiously optimistic."
The SDHB’s new vaccination booking system was almost up and running, and discussions were ongoing with Maori and Pasifika health providers to start delivering vaccinations from next month.