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‘Pure gaslighting’: regional NSW residents furious as Covid spreads after vaccines redirected to Sydney students

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<span>Photograph: Darren Pateman/AAP</span>
Photograph: Darren Pateman/AAP

Newcastle and Hunter residents who had their Covid vaccine appointments cancelled so doses could be redirected to school students in Sydney are furious as they are left unvaccinated and in lockdown as the virus spreads to their region.

On Thursday, as New South Wales announced 262 new locally-acquired Covid cases and five further deaths, the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said a portion of 180,000 accelerated Pfizer doses the federal government had secured would be directed to regions whose supplies had suffered as a result of the plan to vaccinate year 12 HSC students in south-west and western Sydney with the in-demand mRNA jab.

The NSW deputy premier and Nationals leader, John Barilaro, welcomed the accelerated doses for the regions to make up for those redirected to vaccinate about 20,000 year 12 students and thanked the government for responding to his “pleas” – days after he justified the redirection on Tuesday as being “the turn of the bush to repay the favour” for drought and bushfire assistance.

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At Thursday morning’s press conference, the chief health officer, Kerry Chant, said five people in the region had caught Covid-19 at a gathering at Blacksmiths beach, south of Newcastle, on Friday night where some guests are believed to have travelled from Sydney.

Lake Munmorah public school was closed for cleaning after two students were detected with the virus, as well as one student at Morisset high school.

However, vaccine appointments had already been cancelled and doses redirected to Sydney, including on the Central Coast, which was subject to the greater Sydney lockdown and home to new exposure sites, and in Newcastle and the Hunter region, which was placed into a seven-day lockdown on Thursday in response to local virus spread.

While NSW Health said cancelled appointments would be rebooked, affected residents who contacted Guardian Australia on Thursday afternoon had not yet been told how to rebook their appointments, with some for days earlier in the week that could not be simply reinstated. Residents reported anger at being left unvaccinated as Covid spread around them.

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Cherie Quinn, who lives in Charlestown, a suburb about 10km from Newcastle’s CBD, had an appointment for her first dose of Pfizer vaccine booked for Tuesday this week, but it was cancelled after the redirection policy was announced. Her husband’s appointment was also cancelled.

Due to her family medical history, Quinn believed she should not get the Pfizer vaccine, but had experienced difficulty in persuading a GP to give her approval for AstraZeneca because she had only just turned 50.

Before her appointment for the vaccine was cancelled, she had made the decision to get Pfizer because she reasoned the risk of her catching the virus had increased and the risks posed to her by Covid would be greater than the risks associated with either vaccine.

Related: NSW Covid update: Sydney suffers worst day of pandemic with 262 cases and five deaths as Delta spreads north

She was now concerned about the risk posed by Covid circulating in her region while she was unvaccinated.

“I am beyond disappointed,” Quinn told Guardian Australia. “I understand we need to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible and I understand the Delta variant seems to be hitting young people hard, but to take appointments away from the Hunter, especially with how close we are to Sydney, seemed foolish.”

Derren Lowe, an architect and lecturer at the University of Newcastle – which had been open in recent days and was now an exposure site – had his Pfizer vaccine appointment set for 16 August cancelled after doses were redirected to Sydney.

After he received communication from NSW Health on Saturday that his Pfizer appointment was cancelled, he was told he would be given access to priority booking a replacement appointment in coming days, but he had not yet received any information.

It was the second Covid vaccine appointment Lowe had had cancelled, having previously organised an appointment for the AstraZeneca vaccine in June, which was automatically cancelled by the clinic after federal health advice changed the preferred vaccine for him – a 50-year-old – to Pfizer.

Newcastle residents queue for testing at the Mater hospital on Thursday
Newcastle residents queue for testing at the Mater hospital on Thursday. Photograph: Darren Pateman/AAP

Lowe said he was “willing and eligible to take any vaccine” at the moment, but had “no idea how, where or when I will get any vaccine”.

“I’m a bit over being told to get vaccinated,” Lowe told Guardian Australia. “I’ve tried multiple times and will take anything but at present it’s not any hesitancy I’m afraid but only viewed as pure gaslighting.”

On the Central Coast, residents were critical of the decision to redirect their Pfizer doses given they were also subject to the greater Sydney lockdown.

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On Thursday, David Harris, the Labor MP for the state seat of Wyong, said his wife, who was a teacher at one of the schools on the Central Coast where students have now tested positive to Covid, was one of the region’s residents who had their Pfizer vaccine appointments cancelled in recent days to allow for doses to be redirected to Sydney for year 12 students.

Robert Cox, a resident in the Central Coast region, had his Pfizer booking for 19 August cancelled, but had since organised to have an AstraZeneca vaccine – however, he has to travel further away from his local West Gosford hospital where his first appointment was booked.

“The question remains: if it’s supposedly safe enough on the Central Coast that vaccines can be redirected elsewhere, then why are we under the same general lockdown orders as the rest of Sydney?”

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