The Australian Medical Assistance Team, or AUSMAT, is a crack team of emergency disaster responders who deploy overseas providing emergency humanitarian support during major disasters. They never imagined their longest deployment would be on home soil.
Since 2019, AUSMAT has seen an increasing number of deployments within Australia in response to disasters, such as the devastating 2019 bushfires, and most recently as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emergency nurse practitioner Angela Jackson has been at the frontline of many AUSMAT international rescue missions but this deployment, although closer to home, is shaping up to be a much bigger challenge.
Angie and her team were tasked with providing COVID-19 vaccination support to remote communities that are home to many isolated, vulnerable, and Indigenous Australians.
Regional local health services in the NSW far-western region were faced with the monumental task of covering this vast remote area to provide vaccinations with already pre-pandemic stretched resources.
“My main task was trying to focus on vulnerable communities and communities that were difficult to access,” Ms Jackson said.
Providing emergency medical support in these remote and sometimes foreign locations had its challenges.
Ms Jackson said language barriers were always the first hurdle, and communities were not prepared for a group of strangers rolling into town in full PPE.
Deployed on home soil
Patricia Algate is the health service manager for Dareton Primary Health Service based in the far south-west of NSW.
She said the local health care staff welcomed the announcement of help for the vaccination program and for the opportunity to work with AUSMAT.
“Our services embraced the opportunity to provide vaccinations across the shire to all including the vulnerable and learn from their expertise,” Ms Algate said.
The vaccination program required a combined effort by a number of local service providers including Wentworth District and Broken Hill Hospitals, the Local Aboriginal Land Council, and the Wentworth Shire who provided vaccination staff, sourced venues, and provided equipment.
Protecting isolated communities
The Namatjira Aboriginal community vaccine rollout was conducted door to door with a friendly face from the local health care team together with an AUSMAT practitioner.
Ms Algate said the AUSMAT team, who was extremely engaging and culturally sensitive, answered the residents’ questions to dispel myths or anxiety and to allow them to make informed decisions regarding their vaccination.
Uptake of the vaccination program by the community was excellent with families thankful for the opportunity to ask questions and to have the vaccination safely within their home.
“The majority of vaccinations were delivered in the home, often commencing with one or two people, then the rest of the household would follow,” Ms Algate said.
By the end of the busy three-day mission, more than 700 vaccinations were administered to the Dareton community before the AUSMAT team moved on to Balranald.
The team plans to return next month to administer second doses in the massive vaccination rollout effort.
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