As the NSW COVID-19 case numbers continue to show no signs of easing up, the pressure on those in the healthcare industry is rising every day.

Doctors and nurses who are exposed to the virus are starting to speak up and calling for people to do the right thing, to get vaccinated and only leave home when absolutely necessary.

In February of this year, when John Townsend signed up to receive his first vaccine dose, he was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph.

To quote his words at that time, John said: “This year we have the choice to potentially get the virus or get the vaccine – and I know what one I choose”.

Former Narrabri resident John, son of Penny Townsend, is at the forefront in more ways than one.

Working as a frontline registered nurse at several hospital emergency departments in south western Sydney, John is amongst the thick of it – in Sydney’s most significantly affected areas.

“It breaks my heart to see COVID-19 cases increasing in rural areas,” Mr Townsend said.

“If there’s anything I could say to people in my hometown, it is that the pandemic is very real and something to be taken seriously.

“Right now, vaccination is our best defence against an outbreak.

“It is critical that people get vaccinated and follow public health advice if a local outbreak occurs.

“I know it’s hard, but it is critical that we all have to work together.

“I’ve seen how families and businesses suffered when the outbreak took hold in Sydney, and I would hate to see the same happen in Narrabri.”

John has strong links with the Narrabri community.

He and his mother, Penny moved to Narrabri in 1993 after leaving their sheep farm at Cumborah.

Penny Townsend (nee Slack-Smith) grew up on ‘Epping’ between Pilliga and Walgett and worked at the CSIRO Australian Cotton Research Institute.

John attended Narrabri Public School and Narrabri High School to Year 11, until he and his mother moved to Sydney in 2005 where he completed his schooling at Canterbury Boys’ High.

Penny was transferred within the CSIRO to their business development division in Sydney and now works at the divisional headquarters of the Salvation Army in Sydney.

John also worked as a paperboy for The Courier when he was in high school.

“I have fond memories of my childhood in Narrabri, and I don’t want to see the same sort of outbreak we are having in Sydney happen in my hometown”, Mr Townsend said.

“It has been great to see how many people in Narrabri have been vaccinated and it reminds me of how the town would band together during floods and bushfires during my childhood.

“Difficult times like this are when Narrabri really shines as a community, and I know people will work together to get vaccinated and help those struggling at this difficult time”.

Since leaving the Namoi region, John has taken to city life, but his experiences in Narrabri shaped his decision to become a registered nurse and his interest in emergency management.

After studying Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Notre Dame, he completed his clinical honours at the University of Tasmania.

Last year he also completed a graduate certificate in emergency and disaster management at the Charles Darwin University where John’s name was added to the Dean Honours’ Roll for outstanding academic excellence.

John is no stranger to a disaster.

Since 2010, the NSW State Emergency Service has been reaping the benefits of John’s generosity, volunteering his services in such roles as media liaison officer and field volunteer.

He was deployed to Forbes during the Lachlan River floods in 2015 as well as numerous other storm and flood operations within Sydney and across rural New South Wales.

Last year John was also awarded the NSW Premier’s bushfire emergency citation after he was deployed to the Murrumbidgee region during the Black Summer bushfires.

There he was working with a team of clinicians who were caring for residents evacuated from the bushfire zone.

Being one of the first few in Australia vaccinated for COVID-19 at the beginning of the program launch, John feels he will be due for a booster shot soon.

“There are lots of positive cases coming in every day.

“Our emergency department has all staff in PPE, because we assume that anybody walking in the door could have COVID-19 as well as their main presenting medical issue.

“Our surgical wards are being converted to COVID-19 wards, and we see more and more people being admitted who are not well enough to isolate at home”.

Earlier this year John was featured on Channel 9’s A Current Affair, talking about the pressure felt by doctors and nurses while the virus continues to show no sign of stopping.

“We’re all exhausted – I can see it in the faces of my colleagues, and I can see it with my patients.

“No one person is shouldering all of this, we’re all part of a health care team across the state”, he said at the time.

“This year we have the choice to either potentially get the virus or get the vaccine.

“It’s a much harder choice if you’re working in an area where the next person you see could be infected.

“I can understand that some people may be a little concerned about getting the vaccine but so much work has been done to make sure it’s safe”.

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