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Breaking the ice: How a freezer will help get virus jabs back on track

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A high-tech freezer, capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine for Torres Strait communities, will arrive on Thursday Island within days.

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Queensland Health was forced to halt the rollout of AstraZeneca vaccines to Torres Strait and Cape York communities due to the risk of blood clots. Traditional cross-border movement in the area, allowed under the Torres Strait Treaty, is still banned and other restrictions apply to airline travel.

While Queensland Health will endeavour to give a second AstraZeneca shot to almost 1000 people in the region who have had their first, without any adverse reaction, the Pfizer vaccine is now the priority.

“Once the freezer arrives and is in place at Thursday Island Hospital, stocks of the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered separately and stored in the freezer,’’ said Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Executive Director of Medical Services Dr Tony Brown.

“Stocks of vaccine will then be despatched with our immunisation teams as they restart our COVID–19 vaccination program across the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area from 17 May.”

The ultra low temperature freezer needed to store Pfizer vaccines. (Supplied)

Similar freezers are planned for the Weipa Integrated Health Service and Cooktown Multipurpose Health Service.

The rollout has been delayed by the issues with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which have affected confidence levels in the communities that were among the first to be given access due to the risk posed by Papua New Guinea.

“Prior to our immunisation teams arriving at each community across the Torres Strait, Northern Peninsula Area and Cape York, we will be holding community engagement meetings to address concerns and answer questions about the vaccination program and the vaccines,” Brown said.

While Papua New Guinea has experienced a recent decline in officially-reported cases, Australia remains concerned by, and for, its closest neighbour. A traveller from Port Moresby was last week mistakenly allowed into the ‘green zone’ at Brisbane International Airport, used by travellers in the trans-Tasman bubble, and later tested positive for COVID-19.

Queensland recorded one new case of COVID-19 overnight, in a traveller in hotel quarantine.

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