Top 3 questions – Living with COVID-19 in winter with Professor Alison McMillan

Professor Alison McMillan, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, answers the top three questions across our channels.

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Hello, my name is Professor Alison McMillan, and I’m the chief nursing and midwifery officer at the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care. We’re now in the middle of our third winter living with COVID-19, and we’ve seen just over 8 million reported cases since the start of the pandemic. That’s more than a third of Australia’s population. If you’ve been fortunate not to catch COVID yet, you may be wondering if you’ll ever catch it and what can you do to keep it that way.

Firstly, keep up to date with your vaccinations. And now, if you do catch it, there are new, oral antiviral treatments which are part of our frontline defence against the virus. Everyone’s environmental exposure risk is slightly different, and your exposure might be important factor in keeping you safe. So bear in mind that everyone’s immune system is different, and that can influence how susceptible one is to catching COVID-19 or flu. You might work in the same building and live in the same house or learn in the same classroom as someone who has caught COVID but your individual immunity can be the invisible barrier that along with vaccination helps protect you more than the...other family members, colleagues, friends or a stranger.

Then, of course, there are the COVID-safe practices - yes, they still matter - and they also work for flu, and so there are lots of ways that you can keep safe. Just because you haven’t been infected yet, it may still happen despite vaccination, good COVID-safe practices. New variants of the virus are inevitable. So for everyone, but especially those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, don’t drop your guard or become complacent. You know your own medical condition best. And in consultation with your doctor, you are best placed to manage your risk and make the right choices for your circumstances.

A final note about caring for someone with a disability or dementia who has COVID: As we wrestle with these new, highly transmissible variants in the community, please plan ahead. As a carer, your role is so important in helping your loved one get through COVID. If a person you care for is at home with you, make sure you have enough rapid antigen tests and supplies at hand to manage symptoms should you need them. Remember you can access those free rapid antigen tests through your local pharmacy, with a Commonwealth concession card. This is also an important time to look at your wider support network and who might help you with errands and shopping should you need them.

And of course, your doctor is a most important contact and able to provide expert advice about eligibility for new prescription-only treatments before your loved one tests positive. We have a great collection of resources for you with...for people living with disabilities at health.gov.au, and also, you can call the national coronavirus helpline on 1800 020 080. Please stay warm and stay well.

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