Old dental van a secret weapon in COVID-19 vaccine rollout in regional Queensland

A generator powers the vaccine van outside the Rosedale Memorial Hall. (ABC Wide Bay: Stephanie Doole)

The stark white walls are reminiscent of fillings and floss, but a repurposed dental van is proving a secret weapon in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in regional Queensland.

Parts of the state have some of the lowest full vaccination rates in the country, but the van is hitting the road in the Wide Bay and Burnett and increasing vaccination rates in some of the region's harder-to-reach places.

Ron Cheeseman attended the mobile clinic in Rosedale, where he said it was usually difficult to access health care.

"The van is a great thing for the community," he said.

The repurposed dental van parked at Rosedale Memorial Hall. (ABC Wide Bay: Stephanie Doole)

Ryan Wright from Deep Water also seized the chance to get his Pfizer shot.

"I haven't had the opportunity to get vaccinated. It's too far for me to travel to Bundaberg or Gladstone," he said.

Positive response

So far, the outreach clinics have administered more than 4,500 Pfizer doses.

The head of Wide Bay Hospital and Health's vaccination program, Fiona Sewell, said the community response had been very positive.

"The aim is to get out into people's local areas, into their backyards, and to give them an equal opportunity to get vaccinated," she said.

Fiona Sewell is leading the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service's vaccine rollout. (ABC Wide Bay: Stephanie Doole)

"I see a little bit of hesitancy, but really people are just confused about the facts around the different vaccines.

"Once we explain the facts they step forward and put their arm out."

Ms Sewell said the demand for vaccinations had defied expectations.

"We thought we would probably do around 50 to 60 in Lowmead and Baffle Creek, and we ended up doing 79.

"In Agnes Water, our target was around 160 vaccinations a day and we met that every day.

Stepping inside the vaccine van

In Rosedale, vaccines were administered under the shade of the town hall verandah while people passed their 15-minute post-jab wait under tree cover.

Inside the van, any signs of the dentist are long gone and the vehicle is split into sections – one for preparing the vaccine and one for vaccinating patients.

The van is split into vaccination and preparation areas. (ABC Wide Bay: Stephanie Doole)

"If you're vaccinating 400 or 500 or 600 people a day, you need a dedicated space, you need quiet, and you need stainless steel," Ms Sewell said.

"The beauty is that everything has a spot where it fits and we don't have to carry anything in the car."

The van runs off a generator or direct power supply and even has internet.

"We have a calibrated thermometer that sits inside it and logs the data so we can keep them between two and eight degrees."

With constant travel, the team has fine-tuned the process of packing up and packing down.

Amieve Linderberg is one of the nurses who works in the van. (ABC Wide Bay: Stephanie Doole)

"We've been timing ourselves and we need it down to 30 minutes," Ms Sewell said.

"It's a bit of a competition and it's fun for the team. They feel like they're going camping."

The vaccine van will be on the road for the next few months and will revisit towns to provide a second dose.

"Come on down, talk to one of our doctors and the nurses here, find out the facts, and then make an informed decision," Ms Sewell said.

The vaccination team at the Rosedale outreach clinic. (ABC Wide Bay: Stephanie Doole)

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