Often known for punching above its weight, the community of Walcha has not let a pandemic dampen its spirit, and the town has been in the news again recently.
At a virtual regional NSW press conference last week, the deputy premier John Barilaro congratulated Walcha for its 49.2 percent COVDI-19 vaccine double-dose rate - one of the highest in the state.
The team behind that achievement is the local general practice clinic staff led by Dr Adrian Allen, Dr Deng Abiem, Dr Alison Jones, and their practice manager Libby Rogers.
Dr Allen OAM has been practising in Walcha for more than 30 years; at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, he was a strong advocate of social distancing, hand washing, and limiting all but essential socialising, declaring it only a matter of time before the virus came to Walcha.
He was unashamedly vocal on the subject of COVID-19 from the beginning and shared all information he gleaned from reading medical research and professional journals in local media and on social media. Believing being on the front foot with communication was vital to keep the community calm and prepared for the inevitability of the arrival of the coronavirus to the region.
One year later, shortly after there was a call for expressions of interest from GP's, his practice began administering AstraZeneca. Then the surgery was approved to administer Pfizer in July, and the team added that to their vaccine clinic repertoire.
But Dr Allen is humble when speaking about the acknowledgment of Walcha by Mr Barilaro, saying others have also achieved reasonable vaccination rates, and having only one GP clinic in the town helped.
"It's multifactorial," he said when asked why he thought Walcha's vaccination rate is so high.
"First of all, we have a relatively conservative demographic who are more pro-vaccination than anti.
"I also have a gut feeling the community listens to us more because we are a one practice local government area."
Dr Allen thinks constant communication from the clinic has helped and made people more comfortable because it comes from a source they are happy to listen to.
"And we were also fortunate to be given the vaccines earlier than others which has no doubt helped us," he said.
"But probably the most important thing is that we've had the flexibility in the practice because the people that work here put their hand up to do more work, so we haven't been constrained by a lack of resource.
"I've had enough staff that we can call on. I'm so grateful that they have all done that. The nurses and the front office staff have done a fantastic job."
I'm very proud of what has happened, but I am sure there are others doing a similar thing.Dr Adrian Allen
Practice manager Libby Rogers has been in charge of the complex administration behind the scheduling and ordering of vaccines with a short life span. In Pfizer's case - a 31-day shelf life and only one hour to use up the six-dose vial after opening.
"It's a real numbers game in the fact that you have to have your first and second doses booked in and ensure you have the vaccine stock to cover them," Ms Rogers said.
"And you have to order it three weeks in advance.
"At nearly every clinic we have had, we had to have a quick ring around town to find people to bring forward from our next clinic, to cover the people who have not turned up.
"People think it is easy just to change their appointment, but we're just not able to be flexible during a pandemic."
Since April 5, the clinic has administered 3000 vaccine doses, and not one has been wasted, and there have been no severe side effects.
"We have not thrown one dose away," Ms Rogers said.
"It has been a wonderful team effort."
The clinic has also vaccinated many people from outside the Walcha local government area and will continue to do so as travel to obtain a vaccination is allowed under the current NSW Public Health Order.
"We're happy to vaccinate people," Dr Allen said.
"From September 15, we will be able to give the Pfizer vaccine to anyone aged over 12 years old, and we are taking bookings now - but only for Walcha residents initially."
Asked about the need for top-ups next year and his opinion on the other vaccines on the horizon, Dr Allen quips that he is only a 'country doctor', and while well-read on the subject, he is not an expert. But there is one thing he is sure of: we will need to learn to live with the virus.
"We've got to open the international borders, and as soon as we do that, we will have to learn to live with COVID-19," he said.
"It will be interesting in the future to see how things change in terms of social distancing, mask-wearing, and hygiene.
"People will probably be less accepting of being around people who have cold symptoms and will need to think about being more careful in public spaces to manage being around people who are asymptomatic."
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