One of the regional Victoria's leading infectious diseases specialists is warning exposure to coronavirus is a matter of "when and not if", urging communities to reach a new vaccination target of 95 per cent.
South West Healthcare's director of critical care and infection prevention Dr Mark Page said the government could not stop the highly infectious Delta variant, but could control the spread through vaccination protection.
"It's coming and we're going to have the virus in our town," Dr Page said. "We can't tell when, but it is going to come and people are going to be exposed. The time to get vaccinated is now. There is no longer any time to wait."
He said the region's response to public health measures and getting vaccinated had been impressive, but must now ramp-up and surpass the initial national target of 80 per cent.
"The state government is now saying we won't get eradication but we're on a pathway towards suppression," Dr Page said.
"Exposure is going to come but if we're fully prepared and have a 90-95 per cent vaccination rate, that will save lives.
"There's nothing stopping us getting 95 per cent vaccinated. The higher percentage we have double-vaccinated, the better protection is for individuals and the community, and less people get seriously sick so hospitals can cope."
He said Warrnambool was one of the leading regions in the state, with about 70 per cent first-dose and 43 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage. South West Healthcare has delivered about 36,000 vaccines in total.
Dr Page said there was "still a long way to go", urging residents against vaccine hesitancy.
"People who have been hesitant about vaccines and thought they could avoid the virus have to understand they will be exposed," he said.
"Vaccinations are about protecting individuals and their families and allowing health services to cope with hospitalisations kept at manageable levels.
"The risks are not zero, they never are with any medical intervention, but they are incredibly small compared to the risks of COVID. Major complications from vaccines are almost always treatable.
"Vaccines offer very good protection and reduce serious COVID infection and hospitalisation by around 90 per cent. The vast majority of COVID patients currently in ICUs on ventilators in Australia are unvaccinated.
"They don't mean people won't get it, but it makes them less infectious, which is better for their family and the community, and it significantly reduces the mortality rate."
He said appointments for second doses would become available as shipments arrive.
"Once you've been through the state centre, you're then registered and you'll be on a recall to then book in around the six-week mark," he said. "The booking slots aren't always available six weeks ahead of time because the government only releases those when they're in hand."
He said everyone eligible for an mRNA vaccine would eventually have access.
"The Moderna vaccine's going to be coming later in the year," he said.
"Pfizer and Moderna are very similar in the way they work so they'll be offered to people under the age of 60. We're expecting over the coming months everyone eligible for mRNA vaccines will have access to them."
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