Central Coast Let Down During Pandemic

Central Coast Let Down During Pandemic Main Image

12 August 2021

My community don't need to be told how good Australia's response to COVID-19 is when their vaccines are being ripped away. As a pharmacist and a local MP, I'm devastated to see people who've booked a jab not be able to have their jab, to see businesses fold and to see students stuck at home struggling without devices that they need to support them. I've lost count of the number of times this government has failed my community on the Central Coast of New South Wales throughout this pandemic. The botched vaccine rollout, the quarantine breaches and the lack of financial support during lockdown have left people confused, angry and afraid. And what we see time after time is this government failing to take responsibility for their actions.

In my community, one in five people are aged over 65, vulnerable or exposed, and when the rollout first began in February we were relieved to hear that all aged-care workers would be vaccinated by Easter. It's now August and just over one-third of aged-care workers have received both doses. There are frontline workers at risk, as are the people who they care for. They should have been at the front of the queue, but instead they're waiting in line with the rest of us. There are countless local people on the Central Coast who are still waiting to get their first dose, and we're in week 7 of lockdown. We're being told repeatedly that the way out of lockdown is through vaccination—and as a pharmacist I know that—but at the same time locals have had their appointments cancelled because their vaccines were being redirected to year 12 students in Sydney. Locals are expected to accept that we're counted as part of Greater Sydney for lockdown but we're part of regional Australia when vaccines are being redirected.

Last week I asked the Prime Minister about this in question time. What did he say? What was his answer to my community? He said the federal government did not support the initiative to redirect those doses away from the Central Coast. But what did he do about it? My community is now stuck in the middle of a fight between the Prime Minister and the Premier, and the Prime Minister refuses to accept responsibility. This was avoidable. It was preventable. It wouldn't have happened if the Prime Minister had secured enough vaccines in the first place for all Australians.

Now we see vulnerable people at risk and not vaccinated; people like Nadine from Gorokan. Nadine is an unpaid carer who looks after her two elderly parents at home. She was told by her GP she needed Pfizer because she has a stent and other medical issues. Nadine booked her appointment and then found out her dose was being redirected to Sydney. She said, 'It caused me great distress seeing happy, smiling students on TV getting their vaccine while I remain a vulnerable carer locked down.' If the government hadn't botched the vaccine rollout, Nadine and others like her would be vaccinated right now. They'd be safe and protected.

Not only has the government failed to secure enough vaccines; they've failed to secure enough places for people to access them, delaying access to thousands of Australians by not including pharmacies in the rollout earlier. The government says to go to your pharmacist and get a jab, but how can people? As a pharmacist and a trained immuniser, I know pharmacists across Australia have been ready to be part of the rollout for months, but they've been sidelined by this government. It's only this past week that pharmacies on the Coast have been able to administer vaccines. How can you expect people to get vaccinated when you're redirecting their vaccines from the area and didn't include pharmacies in the rollout from the beginning? We've seen the vaccination rates that countries across the world have been able to reach, safely and effectively, when pharmacies have been involved from the beginning.

If that weren't enough, there's also the issue of financial support for people in lockdown. When stay-at-home orders were first issued seven weeks ago, local workers and business owners on the Coast were left with bills to pay, cancellations to process and little certainty about the future. The government brought out JobKeeper and, in another fight between the Prime Minister and the New South Wales government, my community was left behind. Instead, just $500 was offered to individual workers to help them get through. That's less than an apprentice's wage. How is a young family on the Coast supposed to support themselves on that? After calls for more support, the government reluctantly agreed to increase payments. Why didn't they offer them in the first place? Now we hear of more support in Melbourne. While it's welcome, of course, people on the Coast are still being left behind.

These things add up. We're in the middle of a health crisis and Australians need a government they can rely on. But we can't rely on the Morrison Government. Telling us that populations the size of Adelaide, Newcastle or the Gold Coast are vaccinated while we can't get a jab isn't good enough. What we've come to expect from this government is being too slow to act, refusing to take responsibility for their actions and relying on spin to avoid answering the tough questions in the middle of a global pandemic. People in my community on the Central Coast deserve better. They're paying the price for this government's inaction.