Latrobe Regional Hospital frontline health care workers offered their upper arms to be the first Gippslanders to receive the coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday.
The first group of recipients were LRH vaccination team workers, who were themselves inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine before heading out to administer jabs in Gippsland’s public aged care facilities.
LRH emergency clinical nurse and trained immuniser Andrew Simmons was the first cab off the rank to receive the needle after the hospital received the first shipment on Sunday.
“It was no different from any other jab, it was like an annual flu shot. I’ve worked in the field for so long now and I thought ‘lets’ do it’. Don’t be scared of it,” Mr Simmons said.
The Latrobe Valley was named as one of the state’s nine vaccination hubs for the rollout the vaccine, which was also being kicked off in the Goulburn Valley and Albury-Wodonga this week.
Those first to get the jab have been a part of the Phase 1A priority group, including frontline workers and vulnerable communities at the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19.
State Health Minister Martin Foley was at LRH on Tuesday to watch the vaccination program being launched in Gippsland.
Mr Foley thanked Gippsland’s frontline health care workers for helping to keep coronavirus cases low in the region.
“This is a significant moment in our comeback from this global pandemic. Now we have the roll out of this safe, accessible and free vaccine to provide the ticket out of this pandemic,” Mr Foley said.
“All the vaccines are safe, all are effective in keeping you free from this terrible virus, and increasing evidence shows they are very effective in stopping us from transmitting the virus.”
The state government is distributing the vaccine under allocation from the Commonwealth, which is setting the agenda and order for the vaccination program.
Victoria also began the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week, with more deliveries expected to help ramp up the next phase of the program.
Mr Foley said public health officials would begin looking at assessing the state’s COVID-19 restrictions as more of the population got jabbed.
“But we to need to continue to follow the rules. We don’t want to face a situation where we think this is over, the rules need to be in place until the pandemic is finished,” Mr Foley said.
“What we have here with the vaccine program is the pathway to recovery.
“We need more and more Victorians to be vaccinated, this will give us the confidence so we can return to a normal life.”
Gippsland Public Health Unit operations manager Annelies Titulaer said the region would be receiving more vaccines each week.
However, she still urged people to maintain COVID safe practices such as hand washing and social distancing.
“It’s fantastic, I think there’s a buzz in the air because it’s a really exciting moment. It’s a really big milestone for the Gippsland community as we embark on this pathway to recovery,” Ms Titulaer said.