"Jabbed in the back" screamed one headline, and rightly so. The decision to cancel the Pfizer vaccinations of so many Hunter and Central Coast residents was a slap in the face for each and every one of them.
Those who contacted me were keen to stress they are not unsympathetic of our Sydney cousins who are facing a virus crisis. And we all want HSC students to have the best chance of doing well in their studies. But to text people on a Saturday night to cancel appointments was a cruel hit for many.
The root cause of all of this drama is the federal government's failure to secure contracts for more vaccines and greater vaccine options. As a result, government is now playing some Australians off against others. Many who received the text message were quick to point out that there is plenty of AstraZeneca around for Sydney. The NSW Government will say HSC students are too young for AstraZeneca, an argument which is self-defeating at a time when it's trying to reassure people AstraZeneca is safe.
Many of those cancelled on Saturday night have underlying health problems which prevent them from receiving AstraZeneca. They now face a wait of unknown duration. Others who received the message are frontline health workers. NSW Health later said they received the text in error - confusion reigns.
The folly of the Government's strategy will be exposed if, God forbid, we have a COVID-19 breakout in the Hunter. It's like a game of Russian Roulette.
I was one of those who received the text message on Saturday night. My story is too typical. A month ago - three days before I was due to receive my first AstraZeneca jab - the Australian Technical Advisory Group (ATAGI) provided new advice that AstraZeneca should not be administered to people under 60. I'm 59.
Not wanting to give up the appointment, I told my GP I was still prepared to have the jab but was advised it was not possible. I then spent weeks trying to secure a Pfizer appointment. Eventually I was successful - one in August, another in September.
Then, ATAGI changed its advice and dramatically lowered the age bracket for AstraZeneca. I stayed with my Pfizer appointments, aware that I would achieve full vaccination on that path much more quickly than if I switched back to the AstraZeneca option. But, on Sunday morning I took the decision to go back to AstraZeneca and received my first jab. I have no confidence NSW Health will restore the Pfizer appointments any time soon.
This is terrible news for those desperate to be vaccinated but for a range of reasons, can't receive AstraZeneca. They have been badly let down. At the very least, some consultation could have been held before the cancellations were announced. It did me no harm when I was forced back to AstraZeneca, but that is not true for everyone.
Of course, there are those who do not have underlying health issues but are hesitant about AstraZeneca. Given the changing health advice, reports of clotting, and other adverse reactions, it is not irrational for people to have concerns. We should have given people greater choice.
I'm happy to report that I remain well after receiving my AstraZeneca jab. I encourage people to consider AstraZeneca. If you feel unsure, speak with your GP. The only path back to pre-COVID normality is higher levels of vaccination in our communities.
Federal Member for Hunter
NSW Health has authorised pharmacists to offer AstraZeneca vaccination to anyone aged 18 years or over without precautions or contraindications who has had the opportunity for a discussion in relation to the risks and benefits of vaccination, and has provided fully informed consent. As people are contacted they will be provided with information about the rescheduling of their Pfizer bookings. You can check for available GP appointments, via the Australian Government eligibility checker.