Vax facts. What we’re learning from diverse Victorian communities. Health and Wellbeing

Vax facts. What we’re learning from diverse Victorian communities.

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Emma King: Good morning and welcome to our fifth session of the Vaccinating Victoria briefing series. My name’s Emma King. I’m the CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Service. And it’s my absolute pleasure to welcome you all here today. I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we all meet today. I’m on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I would like to pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging, noting of course, that sovereignty was never ceded. I’d also like to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are with us today, and in particular, Jill Gallagher from VACCHO, who’ll be joining us shortly.

Well, it seems like a lot has changed since our last Vaccinating Victoria event only three weeks ago. Lockdown six has been extended. Victoria has acknowledged that COVID zero might indeed be beyond us for the moment. And we have a plan for the easing of restrictions once certain vaccine milestones are hit. And perhaps that last point is the key one for us today. The proportion of Victorians who are vaccinated against COVID-19 continues to grow. More and more Victorians are rolling up their sleeve and getting the jab done, as the hashtag goes. But of course, as we all know, some of the headline figures can be misleading. Often, they don’t pick up the challenges or indeed the various successes of certain population groups or cohorts. They can also gloss over the hard work that’s needed to achieve these results. So that’s what we’re going to be discussing today.

Now, a few things first in terms of housekeeping. Today’s event is being recorded and it will be fully captioned and it will be shared more broadly. We’ll send you an email as soon as it’s available. If you’d like to share or repurpose any part of today’s event, please feel free to do so. As always, our briefing sessions are about spreading fantastic, accurate information as far and as widely as is possible. So today’s event is in two very distinct halves. Shortly, we’ll be hearing from Jayne Nelson. Jayne is the CEO of IPC Health, and also Dr. Nadia Chaves, an infectious diseases specialist who wears many hats, including her role at cohealth. Both are joining us today in their capacity with the C-19 Network. The C-19 Network was set up to deliver culturally-relevant COVID education, health promotion, testing, and vaccinations. And after their presentation, we’ll make sure that we’ve got time for questions as well. Then we’ll be hearing from Jill Gallagher. Jill, as you will all know, is a CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organization or VACCHO. And again, there’ll be time for questions and discussion with Jill. We’ve set aside one hour for this session. Our goal is to keep it short and snappy. And to get us started, a very big and sincere welcome to Jayne and to Nadia, thank you.

Jayne Nelson: Thanks so much, Emma, and thanks for being with us today. We’re very happy to talk to you about the C-19 Network, what we’ve been up to, and sharing some information with you. So I’m just going to share my screen. Hang on a minute. So I too would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and the custodians of the land from where I meet with you today. I’m with the Wathaurong people of the Kulin nation. So here we go. Hope this works. Can everybody see that? Can’t see any thumbs up, so hopefully we’re good. Okay, so the C-19 Network-

Emma King: Sorry, Jane, it’s Emma. Just to let you know, we can’t see the shared screen at the moment.

Jayne Nelson: Oh no.

Emma King: That’s all right. This is the technical world that we’re in, and we’re all doing our best to navigate, so don’t worry.

Jayne Nelson: You know, I was practicing and practicing. Here we go.

Emma King: There we go. It’s come up now, pretty cool.

Jayne Nelson: Okay, okay, hang on a minute. I’ll just pull up the actual presentation. Thank you, Emma. So you can see that now? Yes, excellent, fantastic. So the C-19 work was established to respond to the COVID pandemic. And since March, 2020, we have delivered over 300,000 COVID-19 tests, and we have achieved more than 72,000 vaccine deliveries since May this year. We target those people unable to access mainstream services across Metro Melbourne. Our five community health organizations are combining reach, capabilities, and capacity across a catchment encompassing 75% of Greater Melbourne. So we’ve grown from the initial eight teams, oh, sorry, we’re jumping around a little bit with the presentation, there we go, on the ground who respond to outbreaks anytime of the day or night on, and they’re rostered on a seven day a week basis. And they set up within a few hour notice. We also have engagement teams and a bi-cultural workforce that are speaking local community languages. They’re on the ground with local community leaders. They’re communicating with families and individuals to raise the awareness of COVID safety, prevent transmission, and encourage vaccination. And the C-19 Network has developed clinical standards, policies, and protocols. And we recently appointed a high-level infectious disease specialist, the chair of our C-19 Clinical Governance Committee, Dr. Nadia Chaves. Nadia is a strong advocate for our diverse communities, and has been conducting forums, promoting vaccination, and dispelling any myths. And Nadia’s here with us today, and she’s going to take us a little bit through her experience with the C-19 Network, and some of the achievements we’ve been able to make in regards to vaccinations.

Dr Nadia Chaves: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for having us. I wanted to start by acknowledging that I’m sitting on Boon wurrung land, the Yalukit-willam clan, and part of the Kulin nation. Wherever we are today, I want to pay respects to any Aboriginal people with us today, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander people with us today, leaders past, present, and emerging. Wherever we are in Australia, if we’re not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, we’re migrants and settlers, and pay respect to the people who have the longest living continuous culture in the world.

I’m really proud to be able to present some of this good news stories, I think, about vaccinations today. ‘Cause I know we’re all sitting in lockdown. It’s been really tough. And my heart goes out to all of you wonderful social service organizations that are helping us do the work that we are doing. So I feel really, I joined the C-19 network in June, but I’ve been working in community health since 2013, and have done a lot of work with different diverse communities.

I’m also a general physician at the Alfred. so I also work with a lot of the social service organizations down there. So as Jayne mentioned, we have delivered over 76,000 vaccinations for COVID to many, many diverse communities. And the way that we set up is we set up some, contracted by the state government with the five community health organizations to set up a range of services, both kind of setting specific hubs in different areas, then mobile and outreach surfaces. And each of the different partners has done something slightly different depending on who the local communities are in their area. So for example, cohealth were contracted to set up the vaccination clinics at the basis of all the high-rise towers, where the hard lockdowns had happened last year, and where people had to had such challenges with their experiences of having coronavirus. So we worked really closely with local communities and delivered over 21,000 vaccinations with local community groups in those areas. And then there’ve been kind of mobile hubs and outreach services. Oh yeah, sorry, Jayne, you can, perfect, that’s a beautiful slide.

So with the Department of Health, the community health organizations, we do work with the hospitals and the local public health units and local councils, and really importantly, with community organizations. So depending on the areas that we are in, will depend on the sort of services that we provide. So most recently, so we’ve partnered, I know Sacred Heart Mission are online today. We partnered through Star Health with Sacred Heart to help provide vaccinations to people at risk in the area of St Kilda who maybe would otherwise not have been able to access vaccines. We all know the online portal is a great way of clicking in and booking a vaccine, but it’s not very easy for anyone who doesn’t have those sort of high-tech, high-literacy services. And there’s a lot of barriers to the traditional way of booking in for a vaccine. And what community health and C-19 Network are doing are trying to work out how to overcome those barriers and work with communities to do this. Another example of what we’ve been doing is in the, with each health, we’ve actually been able to provide vaccinations for people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in a way that suits them. So working in areas, locations where people who are homeless gather, rooming houses, caravan parks, SRSs. Wherever the area is that people would like to have the vaccine were approached and worked with local community organizations. So most recently, we’ve been able to through each provide over 1,200 Hakha Chin community members, so people who’ve come as refugees, with onsite professional interpreters in trusted places that they identify, so community centers and churches.

The other thing we’ve done is set up pop-up vaccination clinics in areas that are really at risk. For example, with the current North West outbreak, DPP have worked at the Broadmeadows Town Hall, and have currently provided 10,000 vaccinations, 550 vaccinations a day, sometimes, really trying to provide the opportunities for people to get vaccines where they are. Other good news stories is recently, DPP provided through the Hindu temple, 675 vaccinations across three days in Mill Park. And again, it was the community that helped identify the safest place to get vaccinated for community members where they would feel most comfortable. And just to share a little story, they ran out of booties at the temple, and the temple leaders accommodated us by allowing people through with shoes on, which is outside of what was comfortable for them. And that just shows the length to which communities are willing and able to want to access services. And luckily, we worked with the Northern Hills to get booties on site and set up in a culturally appropriate way. So we’re really trying to work out what the safest and best ways are for people to be able to access these vaccines. These vaccines are going to save lives, and they’re saving lives already. But we know that unless we actually make a concerted effort to provide vaccines in a way that are accessible, people are going to miss out on care. Other good news stories, you may have heard that the Greek Orthodox community had a vaccination clinic set up. That was also the C-19 Network work, and 978 vaccines across four days. So I think the main thing that we try to do is try and identify these areas, provide mobile clinics where we can. Of course, it’s very hard sometimes to have walk-ins, ’cause we don’t know exactly how many numbers we’re going to get. So in that way, we work with communities to help them book in vaccines also. So we have a number, most of our vaccinations are through book-ins with community helping to book in, and now we’re going to have group vaccinations in other ways. I think one of the main limitations that we have and challenges of course has been the challenges that many people around the communities have faced with the differing accessibility and eligibility of the vaccines, the types of vaccines, and really combating some of the myths and misinformation that’s going around community. So through our many different community organizations and HRAR, which are the public housing, high-risk accommodation response, trying to hear what myths are happening in communities and work on providing community and education forums to directly combat these myths, and then work in a way that we can provide vaccines. The other challenge of course we have is workforce, because standing up this many vaccinations within a short period of time means employing a whole new workforce, training them up to be safe, making sure that we’re always on top of what the latest is in vaccination technology, safety, infection control, cold chain. And really early on, we were even unable to deliver Pfizer because of the way that it needed to be refrigerated. So you can imagine taking a vaccine out to a mobile center or a caravan park was actually impossible because we had to have things in special fridges. It’s so lucky now that we’ve got this opportunity to be able to get things, we know there’s more vaccines coming. So if you’re trying to book in for a vaccine right now, or get one of these services on, there’s a bit of a limit at the moment, ’cause we’re still waiting for new vaccines to come.

However, in the next few weeks, we’re hoping that that service will be expanded and we’re going to get more vaccines, and we’ll be able to better support these communities. ‘Cause I think the challenge is there’s so many more thousands of people need to be able to access these vaccines. And I’d actually like to ask, now that you know a little bit about us, if you hadn’t heard about us before, that you touch base with your local community organizations of the C-19 Network if you identify communities where we could be providing a service. And we can potentially help advocate to the state government to get these services happening in the areas that are needed, ’cause we rely on these local community networks and social services to provide the service. So thank you all for your help.

Emma King: Thank you so much, Nadia and Jayne. A huge instancy thank you for the incredible work that you’re doing. And as well, Nadia, I think the last point that you made as well around that, being so deeply embedded in local communities, and the shout out, I guess, for anyone who’s online or communicate with other community sector organizations who are online to get in touch with you. Before I’ll throw in a minute to questions more broadly and suggest that people raise their hands in the chat function, I will do my best to see you. And no doubt, the VACCHO staff will prompt me if I’m missing anyone putting their hand up. But I did just see a question in the chat, which I might throw to both of you, which is around, so from Rod Macintosh, around details about member organizations to the C-19 Network available online.

Dr Nadia Chaves: Yeah, such a great question. Shall I leave Jayne to answer that one?

Jayne Nelson: Yeah, we’ve kind of stood up fairly quickly. We haven’t put a great presence online. We have been talking about whether we need to put around own brand out there as C-19 Network, but each organization here, as you can see, we’ve got our logos there, but we don’t have a great online presence. We are working very closely with the Department of Health, and got the calls from them and clearly with our local communities. So the C-19 Network, as it stands is alone. We are talking about what the future is and what we continue to do when we work together in this space. But often, you’ll see us individually working for our own organizations as well. So it’s kind of an interesting scenario where each of our own organizations are there and we work together to achieve many of the outcomes, which is great, because it gives us scale. It also gives us consistency, and we’re able to lean on each other. And we do call in other community health organizations because they’re the ones that have the local knowledge and the local connections with the local communities. They’re already engaged, so we tend to do that. So you won’t see a lot of information out there at the moment about C-19 Network as its own incorporation or organization. Thanks for the question.

Emma King: Thank you. And I think as well, so huge shout out to community health more broadly. I’ve got another question in the chat here about saying fantastic presentation so far. Sorry, it’s just disappeared from my screen while I’m chatting. So does the C-19 Network focus on Melbourne areas so far, or include regional and rural settings? Thank you, Ada.

Dr Nadia Chaves: Yeah, great question. And yeah, at the moment, it is only Melbourne-based. And I think it’s the limitations of where the community health organizations, the partners actually are. And also the limitations of staff and vaccine availability. And I think as we get more vaccines available, that’s going to change, but at the moment, it has been limited. But I forgot another good news story is, people were saying, what about international students? Or what’s happening in the city? It’s very hard to get vaccines for people who are kind of living, who are experiencing homelessness in the city. And so having peer support workers who have experienced homelessness, working with the city of Melbourne, we’ve stood up the town hall walk-in vaccination clinic. So we can kind of work out how to, where the demand is, depending on the local partners, helping local community organizations, helping identify things and making it happen. So providing the spaces as well.

Emma King: Thank you, and I think I saw the announcement around the Melbourne Town Hall and really focusing on getting to a very broad section of the population, which was fantastic as well. And we’ve got another question in the chat from Sally Sutherland. And this is a question that’s come up a few times actually around, are there specific ways that we can decrease vaccination hesitancy in multicultural women? And there’s a suggestion here about potentially partnering with schools as we encourage students and parents to be vaccinated together.

Dr Nadia Chaves: Oh, Sally, that’s a wonderful idea. And look, just to let you know, with my other hat, I’m a mother, and I’m also married to an intensive care physician. My husband Rohit D’Costa’s at Royal Melbourne Hospital, and he’s currently seeing people coming into ICU who haven’t necessarily had access to vaccination, but we also do hear a lot of hesitancy, especially amongst women. And I’m really worried about pregnant women. And I love that idea of partnerships. So currently, I know the Department of Health are doing a lot of work in that space. I kind of do my own as I’m approached by community organizations, I provide education, but there needs to be definitely a partnership approach. And I think the more messages, I’ve actually been encouraging a lot of different community organizations to pop things out on their local networks, their WhatsApp groups, their Facebook pages, to combat this hesitancy. ‘Cause we know there’s a lot of information out there, but how do we get it out to the people that don’t necessarily access it? And I really, oh, Sally, that’s very nice. I really want to actually urge all of you that are trusted community social services organizations to also spread this message of the vaccine being safe and effective, and to please get tested if you have symptoms. ‘Cause I’m really worried that we’re all tired from lockdown, we’re all exhausted about homeschooling, and we want to come out, but also there is a lack of, we can’t be good 24/7, it’s really hard. And so I see people playing soccer in the parks and gathering together. And we know that COVID is spreading. So if we can encourage all our organizations, health and non-health to help keep the community self and work out how to do this. Yes, we do liaise with the PHNs, but not in a really, so I’ve been doing a bit of work with the North West PHN, just promoting their things. PHNs do a lot with local GPs as well, so I don’t know if there’s an official connection. I don’t know if Jayne can help me with this.

Jayne Nelson: So yes, so the PHNs definitely, we’re more involved with them in terms of the Primary Health Network, so local GPs, as Nadia has mentioned. So separately to the state department and state funding, it’s federal funding for the vaccinations. And yes, you’ll find each of our organizations and other community health organizations in Victoria are working quite closely with the PHNs to roll out vaccinations through their GP clinics.

Emma King: Thank you. And it was interesting the point, I think, that you made, Nadia, around seeing people and not, for me, it would be across ages who are gathering perhaps around, as you say, playing soccer in parks or et cetera. It feels really different to last year actually, which is, yeah, I think it’s kind of interesting how watching the numbers play out as well. Do you think as well, one of the questions that’s come through is around, do you think that there’s talk of one day limiting the rights of unvaccinated people in the future that sort of no jab, no play type rule. How do you think this will be received in the communities that you’re working closely with?

Dr Nadia Chaves: Oh, look, I hate the thought of doing something like that, because it’s your own autonomy to make decisions about your health. And I think if we’re not able to provide information in a way people understand, like I have looked across all the research on these vaccines and I am so comfortable with it being, we can see how many lives have been saved from vaccinations overseas, and even in Sydney now. I hate the thought of people who’ve already, often many of the communities that we work with have had trauma, and their rights taken away from them in so many different ways in both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and refugee and asylum seekers communities, ongoing infringement of their human rights. So I would hate to think of something like that happening. I think anything that we can do to partner with communities and provide things in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable is the way to go. Yeah, Bendigo, and this is something to say, all the regional health services are also trying to do their own thing, and it was a state, so our state government, thank goodness, have prioritized providing vaccinations in this way. So it’s really important to recognize that we are partnering with the state government on this. And they highlighted that community health know these communities better than state government maybe do. And how do we, they contracted us to do this work. So unless state government had this vision, it wouldn’t be happening.

Emma King: Thank you. And I think you’ve covered both of the comments in the chat, and also a great comment there, I think, around Bendigo Community Health and the fantastic work you’re doing as well. Oh, question close to my own heart, I do love a neighborhood house. A question from Viki around asking whether you’re working with the neighborhood house network.

Dr Nadia Chaves: Viki, I’m not sure that we are at the moment to be honest. And I think there are specific groups that we had to prioritize. So especially the high-rise estates, public housing, rooming houses, boarding houses, people experiencing homelessness, different refugee and asylum seeker communities. It’s that we have kind of plans out of how the next few weeks and months, and things change. So the other thing to know is, we’ve got to try and work out how to provide vaccinations in the most effective and useful way possible for the community. So each organization has to work out, sometimes there are ebbs and flows with workforce as well. Sometimes if there’s a big outbreak, some of our workforce are pushed into testing, urgent testing, urgent partnering with local communities to provide food relief and all those sorts of things, urgent medical care for people who are currently providing cases. So all of our community health organizations are kind of doing business as usual, as well as having this vaccination availability. So that workforce depends. I love that Victorian men shared as well. So all of these things, I think the idea is also to make sure that, where people are able to access vaccines through their general practice, through state vaccination hubs where they can book in themselves, where they have the, I call it the social capital, the connections, the tech literacy, the health literacy to do those things, we’d encourage our local communities who have those things to do vaccination booking that way. And so we focus on people who are most at risk and unable to vaccinate in any other way.

Emma King: And that’s a really good shout out as well, given the recent government announcements. Having a daughter in year 12, we’re looking at the push for us to jump online yesterday. And it just, I felt those people who’ve got the social capital to do that and to free up, I think, the system that you’re working to navigate and provide to our community as well. If I can, a huge thank you to both of you for the incredible work that you’re doing along with the other community health organizations and the other people in your network. ‘Cause you’re just so focused on serving the communities in such a really sensitive way.

I can say some other questions coming through. So I suspect you’re going to stay online, and it might be great if you can keep a bit of an eye on the questions et cetera that are coming in. So I’m mindful around the time there as well. But I just know, the work that you’re doing is just so critical. It’s making such a huge state of Victoria. And I think, as you say, being so connected into community as well to show actually, this is how we can work most effectively given the pandemic as well. So a huge shout out, and thanks to both of you today, better and to get people vaccinated. I did want to actually give a particular shout out to Nadia as well. Video campaign, there we go, it’s a picture shot, which is the campaign around back to the good things. We are really proud of that campaign, and wanted to focus on the positive. And Nadia was incredibly generous. And that campaign is only possible through the generosity of people such as Nadia. And we really, really appreciate it. And of course, that is on top of all of the other work that Nadia, you are doing.

And I just want to give a bit of a shout out in terms of the work that Nadia and Jayne, the work that you’re doing across the sector, in communications, and in an educational capacity as well. I just want to say how fantastic it is. So Nadia and Jayne, a huge thank you. I’m hoping that you can join us for the remainder of the session as well. I have to say that the first half hour just flew by, and I think you can see through the chat, there’s so many questions coming through, and I suspect people will have more as the session continues as well. So a very sincere thank you. It’s now my pleasure to welcome Jill Gallagher. As the cliche goes, I don’t think Jill needs any introduction at all, but I will give Jill an introduction anyway. Jill is a very, very proud Aboriginal woman and has been the CEO of VACCHO since 2001. She served, as you know, as Victoria’s treaty advancement commissioner, is an inductee to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women, and in 2013, was awarded an Order of Australia. She is a true powerhouse, and we love you, Jill, really. That’s the best introduction I can think of giving. And can I say, so Jill is so generous in terms of her time in being such a strong leader for the Aboriginal community, but also being such a strong and true friend to those of us who work in the sector, and being a very, a true friend, and a strong source of advice and guidance as well. And I really do want to acknowledge that as well.

So Jill is here today to talk about, I guess, some of the successes and some of the challenges of the vaccine rollout in her community. And as before, we’ve allocated time for discussion and questions, et cetera, after Jill’s formal presentation as well. And Jill, as always, it’s my absolute honor and privilege to welcome you. And thank you very much for being here with us today. So thank you, Jill.

Jill Gallagher: Thank you, Emma. Thank you very much for that introduction. Before I do begin, I do want to acknowledge that we are on Aboriginal lands, and I want to pay my respects to elders past and present. I’m currently on Wurundjeri land. And I do also acknowledge that we are all on Aboriginal lands that were never ceded. Okay, I want to thank the previous speakers, Nadia and Jayne. Thank you very much. A lot of the information that you spoke about resonates in our community also, and some of the challenges our services also face. So thank you. But yes, so overall really, we have been pleased with the response, I suppose, from the Victorian Aboriginal community here in Victoria, with the numbers that have come forward to be vaccinated.

Yes, there has been some successes, but we’re certainly not out of the woods yet. And there is still plenty of work to do. To have the relatively strong uptake that we have seen in this state is a credit, in the Victorian Aboriginal community is a credit to the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander community and a credit to the hardworking staff of all the Aboriginal community controlled health organizations based around the state of Victoria. And like everyone else that I’ve just heard too, from Nadia and Jayne, the workforce, they’re exhausted, tired, and in some cases, a little bit depleted. And we all need a bit of hope. And I think that’s really important. The strong uptake has been assisted by a high number of vaccines being administered throughout the Victorian Aboriginal community by the 17 Aboriginal community controlled health organizations who are now administering not only the AstraZeneca, but also the Pfizer vaccine. And I can’t remember exactly when our service has got access to Pfizer, but we saw a difference. We saw a increase in the uptake of vaccines in our community as a result of having Pfizer. And that goes back to, I suppose, people’s confidence in what vaccine they get. Very early on, we all know the AstraZeneca didn’t get a good rep. And it’s really hard to get that negativity out of people’s minds. So our organizations have been administering AstraZeneca for some time, but the uptake wasn’t well-received. But since Pfizer hit the Aboriginal community controlled organizations, the uptake has increased.

So that goes back to people’s trust in what vaccine they get. I think the strong, the community controlled pie, I think the reason why we’ve had some success in the Victorian Aboriginal community shows a role of community controlled Aboriginal health organizations protecting and advancing the wellbeing of the community. And that comes back to, it comes back to the fact that the Aboriginal community controlled health organizations, they’re a trusted source for the community that they service. So that trust is really, really very important in administering any service, let alone something as sensitive as vaccines for COVID-19. So I think trust played a big role in why we’ve been so successful. I think also, and I think Nadia and Jayne mentioned it earlier on. Knowledge of the community that you serve. In our community, our individual community members own the ACCOs. That goes back to Aboriginal community control. So they elect at every AGM who goes on the board. So that’s that ownership. And hence comes the intimate knowledge of the community. So I think that’s been a couple successes, apart from, of course, having access to all the vaccines that’s on offer. It’s another reason why we’ve been so successful. And that goes to the strong partnership that we have with state government. And I know it was mentioned in the previous presentations, having that strong partnership with government is vital, and we do, and that’s really good. I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of putting Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands, and community looking after community. Those statements aren’t just pie in the sky statements. They are actually living, breathing, what happens on the ground in the Victorian Aboriginal community. The personal touch, the culturally safe care that gives our community comfort and confidence that we’ll be taken care of. And a little story that I’ll share with you about what I mean knowing your community. I live on Wurundjeri country, and VAHS is my Aboriginal community controlled service provider.

Apart from First Peoples’ Health, who just lives around the corner from me, which is really good. But at the end of the day, the fact that VAHS knows who is in the Melbourne-based Aboriginal community, who has had the vaccine, and who hasn’t. So they know whether they need to chase up Auntie Jill, or Uncle Fred. They know how to do that. And if there is hesitancy, they need to work out strategies that the mob, that the community are going to listen to. And I think that’s really important, that intimate knowledge of the community that you serve, and along comes with that is trust too. As earlier stated, I also pay, absolutely pay credit to the Department of Health with a lot of the heavy lifting they have done. The model in Victoria has come down through strong partnerships, regular open communication channels between VACCHO, public health team, the Aboriginal community controlled organizations, and the Department of Health. For example, just recently, both VACCHO and the Department of Health have stood up a regular once a week catch up with all the border town communities, Aboriginal community organizations. New South Wales government and state government, Victorian state government to talk about the outbreaks along that border. And some of the issues coming from being in a border town and permit issues and things like that, especially in the Aboriginal community. So I do need to shout out to the great work that the Department of Health has provided throughout all this. VACCHO, we supported the rollout of the community, unity, immunity, COVID vaccine campaign from the Victorian Department of Health through the social media. I think one of the other challenges is that messaging, messaging that we can all understand, not just in the migrant communities, but also in the Aboriginal communities. Government put out factual, actual messaging, but it’s not easily understood by our community. So what we do is we actually re-message the government messaging in our own socials. And then of course our members re-message that message to the individual people that they serve. So I think messaging is really, really important. It’s been a big challenge in the past. It still is, but we try to keep on top of that. I think one of the other challenges for us is access to accurate data. And it’s been a humongous issue. How do we know we’re doing so great? How do we know where do we need to focus from a state perspective? Which LGA do we need to focus on? And we don’t have access to accurate data. And that’s a really, that’s a challenge. And I get frustrated when we get caught up in politics, in relation to whether it’s a Commonwealth or state government responsibility.

We get caught up in that all the time, and it’s infuriating and frustrating. But that’s some of the challenges we have to navigate, unfortunately. So that’s, yeah. But in saying that we’ve done well. I can’t give you an accurate figure of what the data is showing in relation to the Victorian Aboriginal community, but I know it’s higher than any other states, and that’s really good. What we do need to drill down is at a local level, where do we need to focus our efforts? Although we’re doing well, we still got a long way to go. If the rhetoric is that we’re going to open up at 70 or 80%, we’re going to open up the country, we still have a lot of people in our communities, in my Aboriginal community that is unvaxxed, and are quite vulnerable, and have a lot of underlying issues. So that’s the scary bit. So even though we might be at 80%, but what does that equate to in the Aboriginal community is what I would need to understand a bit more. The other things that I think has been a challenge in our communities is that myth-busting. And as I said earlier, it’s really hard to, once someone’s heard earlier on about whether AstraZeneca is a good vaccine or not, that has remained in our community. And trying to myth-bust that in the community has been extremely hard. But what our community have done is actually once our members received the Pfizer vaccine to administer, as I said, the uptake was fantastic. And let’s believe our members vaccinated whoever walked through the door, regardless of what vaccine. And what I mean by that is that, that their whole purpose was no matter what, was to actually vaccinate, not turn anyone away, put it that way. Not turn anyone away. If they had it, you got it. And I think that’s been, whereas I’ve seen, and just last week, I was in a chemist, getting a script filled. And I saw an older man, not Aboriginal, he was European, come into the chemist in, where was I, reservoir, and asked for the Pfizer. Now, he clearly wasn’t eligible, but I think it’s ridiculous that we’re turning people away because he refused to have the Astra. I absolutely think it’s ridiculous. Our whole, I suppose, where we want to go is to make sure that everyone gets vaccinated. If you come in to ask for a vaccine, then I should get it. That’s my belief. And so I see people being turned away, because they still are not comfortable or confident that the AstraZeneca is not going to hurt them. So that’s a big challenge in the broader community. What else? In closing, I think I basically want to say that what, I think the strength is in partnerships. And I think, God, for example, the Aboriginal community controlled health sector, we just recently put out a call to arms.

Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-op up in Shepparton on Yorta Yorta Country area, one of the hotspots, one the outbreaks, the CEO basically contacted VACCHO and said, “Our staff are exhausted. Can we put out a call to action from all our other members?” Which we did. And other Aboriginal community controlled organizations sent staff, desperately needed staff to Shepparton. Shepparton, Rumbalara co-op also has a residential aged care facility, so VACCHO provided Rumbalara with an additional testing. What was it called? Anyways, one of those quick, get a test done in an hour, point of care testing machines, which they needed. And also a lot of our members provided additional clinical staff to help with the vaccine rollout. So that, because the numbers up there wasn’t that crash hot as in vaccination uptake. So we needed to basically work out ways how our members right across Victoria can support where there are outbreaks, and share clinical staff and whatever else is needed. I think what we need to do a little bit better at, and that is partnerships between the Aboriginal community controlled health organizations and non-Aboriginal health organizations. So all the VCOSS members, I think we’re going to get better at how we partner up with the Aboriginal community controlled health organization. And I’ll give you an example. Earlier on, do you remember when we had the one confirmed case in Mildura not long ago? Where there was a bit of a bit of a panic up there. And the hospital, a lot of staff had to go into isolation as a result. The Sunraysia Community Health, a lot of their staff had to go into isolation as a result. So the Mildura Aboriginal health service jumped in to support the mainstream. And that partnership and that working together is really crucial, I believe, as to how we tackle the big challenges we’ve got as Victoria, regardless of whether you’re Aboriginal or non-aboriginal, but as Victorians. So how do we make that happen? How do we get better at that? And I think that’s a challenge that I’d like to throw out in relation to the C-19 Network. How do we engage in that process? How do we bring VAHS into the nest and in that partnership? And they probably already are. It’s probably ’cause I don’t know. So I think that the importance of organizations, whether Aboriginal or non-aboriginal, how do we come together across the state to support one another, not just in Melbourne?

We are seeing more and more rural outbreaks here in Victoria, and I think it’s really important. So those examples of strengthening partnerships with the service providers. The Aboriginal community controlled health organizations, we are part of the health system. We’re not a tack on or a separate. And that’s the only way we’re going to deal with all the challenges. So thank you for listening. And I’ll hand back to Emma to facilitate the questions.

Emma King:Thank you, Jill. And I think it’s pretty widely acknowledged that ACCOs in many ways are leading the way. And I think it is about being deeply embedded in community and culture. So so much to learn from you on that front. And I think the challenge you’ve put out about partnerships is a great one. And great to do that here as well. We’ve got so many members online as well, and people who I think are really looking for those opportunities to partner up as well. So I think it’s one of the things that we can look at, how we look at putting that out more broadly, I think in our comms as well. ‘Cause as you say, it’s not only the organizations who are here today, it’s actually about the organizations who may not be here today as well, to look at how we can really promote those partnerships as well. But the other point I would really want to make is I think, as you say, it’s the part about leading the way that I think VACCHO and the ACCOs have got so much to teach others in Victoria, because it’s at, I think it’s pretty interesting that there’s something that Victoria is doing, and VACCHO and the ACCOs are doing that’s interesting when you think Victoria’s leading the way in other states. So there’s lots to learn there, I think, for non-Aboriginal organizations as well about the work that you’re doing and is underway. Now, if you’ve got questions, please do pop them in the chat. We’ve got time for a couple of questions. And I can see a few comments in here as well. So bear with me as I’m just having a very quick scroll. I think a lot of the questions in here about looking at lots of thank you’s. And there’s a question from Rod about, Jill, do you know if the ACCOs are partnering with other organizations like Gathering Places to improve access to vaccinations where there might not be an ACCO?

Jill Gallagher: Yes, the answer is yes. And the other things that ACCOs, especially VAHS here in Melbourne has been, there is a cohort that we haven’t got to. So how do we do that? They’re not going to come into the clinic, so how do we go to them? And I think Nadia spoke about mobile pop-up clinics. We’ve got to get better at that. And I think it’s not just at VAHS that we got to run these vaccine clinics. It’s how we do outreach in that space. And I know VAHS has been lobbying or advocating that they have a mobile vaccine van. And so yes, but yes, they are trying to work out how they do that better.

Emma King: Thanks, Jill. And one other question that’s come through separately. I’ve got two others that I’ll try and touch on before we wrap up. One is around, Sally Sutherland just put in the chat around, can telehealth be used to send nurses out in, bear with me, sorry, I just clicked off my screen at the very wrong time. Can telehealth be used to send nurses out to offer in-home vaccinations?

Dr Nadia Chaves: I just want to say it first here, thank you so, oh, you go if you want, Jill.

Jill Gallagher: I was going to say, I don’t know how to answer that, because I don’t know how telehealth do that.

Dr Nadia Chaves: Yeah, before I answer, I just want to say thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, Jill, and all the work that VACCHO have been doing. I always think that we can learn so much from the approaches of Aboriginal community controlled health organizations. The whole approach is so embedded in how community runs. And it really shows so many benefits compared to kind of mainstream health services. With regards to telehealth and vaccination uptake, we’ve actually got to look at how to get vaccines jabbed in arms.

So telehealth may allow people to have introductory conversations about vaccines, maybe concern and things like that. But you’ve got to think about some of the places that we’re trying to reach, people don’t have internet. They don’t have data on their phones. It’s not necessarily a good idea, but I don’t know if that would work. If you have a particular community where you think telehealth might work, it would be interesting to look at. Our rate-limiting steps, as I mentioned, are actually workforce. So actually getting enough staff to provide the vaccinations, and then the actual vaccinations themselves. So we’ve got, I think, we’ve got quite a lot of communities putting their hands up and saying, hey, can you come over here and organize a testing service, a vaccination service for us, but we still don’t have that. So I know I’ve given you my email. If people email me and say, I’ve got a hundred of my so and so who could get vaccinated, I may not be able to come through for you at the moment. So hang in there, but I’m really, I’m still really interested in learning where these gaps are. ‘Cause the other thing is, the data is not available.

So we know who we’ve vaccinated, but we actually don’t know who’s had a vaccination one with their GP and one with us. And we do have postcode-specific, very general data, but it just doesn’t tell us about who’s missing out on care. We actually don’t even know who’s had the education services. We know every organization, health organization, government, whoever had been providing kind of helpful forums to find out about vaccines, but we don’t know who’s missed out. So having extra knowledge about that’s really important.

Jill Gallagher: I think also the other thing, and Nadia is right, in relation to telehealth, more recently, VACCHO and our members have been running online forums, real live forums, where we bring in medical experts to do that myth-busting. So community, and a lot of our organizations actually know who in the community hasn’t got access to internet or the equipment they may need. And another community have done more work around fixing that gap. For example, one of our aged care facilities here in Melbourne, last year, we provided a whole ward of, what do you call it? iPads, which was loaded up with internet accessibility for elders to maintain that communication. So a lot of our organizations do that. So one of the biggest issues in the uptake of vaccines for our people at the moment is that hesitancy, especially in the younger cohort.

So what do we need to do to change that messaging around the younger cohorts? And those online forums are fantastic, ’cause community can go in there and ask a health professional and expert. Well, I heard this. And then they can have local experts who are going to do a lot of that myth-busting. I think that’s a great way forward. I don’t know whether it’s a great way forward for the refugee community or the migrant community, but it works in our community.

Emma King: Thank you. And thanks so much. And I think that’s a brilliant session. I’m saying as well, Ryan just put a question about the Koorie Youth Council. Well, not a question, a comment about the Koorie Youth Council Q and A sessions on Facebook Live, which had been fantastic as well. So it’s probably a good note on which I’m mindful that we’re pretty much running up on time. I thought this conversation could go for a very long time. And with a group of particular people who are really, I think, passionate about this area. And as you say, Jill, I think much of this comes down to partnerships, and it comes down to accurate information that is very much tailored to community, and making that as accessible as possible, and recognizing we need to do that in lots of different ways. And that’s work that yourself, Jill, Jayne, and Nadia are very passionate about, and you do every single day for which we are all inordinately grateful.

A huge thank you to Jill, to Jayne, to Nadia for your time and generosity in sharing your expertise and knowledge with all of us today. I did want to mention, just to reiterate again. So this event is being recorded. It will be fully captioned. And we will share it with everyone within the next couple of days as well. So we’ll make sure we send a link through. Next Vaccinating Vitoria event is three weeks from today, on Tuesday, the 28th of September. So I look forward to seeing you again then. And again, I just want to finish with saying a huge thank you to our presenters today, and a huge thank you to all for being with us. Have a wonderful rest of your day, and look forward to seeing you soon. Take care everyone, thank you, bye.

Engaging with culturally diverse and Aboriginal people in a tailored, safe and appropriate manner is crucial to ensuring those communities don’t get left behind as the nation races towards an 80 per cent COVID vaccine target, a VCOSS forum of health experts has heard.

The Vaccinating Victoria event was also told there’s a frustrating lack of access to accurate data for organisations, such as the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), when it comes to knowing where to focus its vaccination efforts.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged all but the most highly targeted lockdowns will end once 80 per cent of the eligible population is vaccinated against COVID-19.

VACCHO chief executive Jill Gallagher said the vaccination rate for Aboriginal Victorians is higher than any other state, but there is still a long way to go.

“If the rhetoric is that we’re going to open up at 70 or 80 per cent, we’re going to open up the country, we still have a lot of people in our communities, in my Aboriginal community that is unvaxxed, and are quite vulnerable, and have a lot of underlying issues,” she said.

“So that’s the scary bit.”

Update: Since this article was published an error in Commonwealth vaccine data collection has been revealed, meaning there’s been an overrepresentation of the vaccination rates of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria. See VACCHO’s statement here.

The C-19 Network – a consortium comprising cohealth, Star Health, IPC Health, each and DPV Health – has delivered more than 76,000 COVID-19 vaccinations to people across Melbourne from culturally diverse backgrounds, those in insecure housing or experiencing homelessness, and people in high-density accommodation.

It has conducted more than 300,000 COVID-19 tests since March last year.

C-19 Network chief executive Jayne Nelson said engagement teams and a bi-cultural workforce were on the ground speaking local community languages.

“They’re communicating with families and individuals to raise the awareness of COVID safety, prevent transmission, and encourage vaccination,” she said.

The C-19 Network has delivered more than 76,000 COVID vaccinations and more than 300,000 tests.

The Network set up vaccination clinics at the base of the high-rise towers in inner Melbourne, which were in hard lockdown last year.

“These vaccines are going to save lives, and they’re saving lives already,” C-19 Network chair and infectious diseases specialist, Nadia Chaves said.

“But we know that unless we actually make a concerted effort to provide vaccines in a way that are accessible, people are going to miss out on care.”

Dr Chaves said it was integral people are offered vaccinations in a suitable community setting where they felt safe.

For example, during the current outbreak in Melbourne’s north west, more than 10,000 people – sometimes up to 550 a day – were vaccinated at the Broadmeadows Town Hall.

Some 675 vaccinations were provided across three days at the Hindu temple in Mill Park and the temple leaders accommodated health workers by allowing them into the venue with their shoes on (before extra booties could be found), which isn’t something that would usually happen.

“That just shows the length to which communities are willing and able to want to access services,” Dr Chaves said.

“It was the community that helped identify the safest place to get vaccinated for community members where they would feel most comfortable.”

The C-19 Network has worked in areas where people who are homeless gather such as rooming houses and caravan parks.

People who have come to Victoria as refugees have also been vaccinated in trusted places, such as community centres and churches, with the support of onsite professional interpreters.

Dr Chaves said she didn’t support calls for unvaccinated people to have limited rights.

“I hate the thought of doing something like that because it’s your own autonomy to make decisions about your health,” she said. 

“Anything that we can do to partner with communities and provide things in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable is the way to go.” 

Ms Gallagher said Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations looked after their communities by building trust with the people they serve, which is essential when rolling out something as sensitive as COVID-19 vaccine.

Building trust involves a personal touch – knowing who has had the vaccine and who hasn’t – and delivering care in a culturally appropriate setting that gives the community comfort and confidence, she said.

“They know whether they need to chase up Auntie Jill, or Uncle Fred – they know how to do that.

“And if there is hesitancy, they need to work out strategies that the mob, that the community, are going to listen to.”

They know whether they need to chase up Auntie Jill, or Uncle Fred – they know how to do that. And if there is hesitancy, they need to work out strategies that the mob, that the community, are going to listen to.

Ms Gallagher said a lot of government information about COVID-19 vaccinations is not easily understood by Aboriginal communities.

“So what we do is we actually re-message the government messaging in our own socials,” she said.

Access to data has been a huge issue, with Ms Gallagher noting she does not know exactly how many people in Victoria’s Aboriginal community have been vaccinated.

“We don’t have access to accurate data,” she warned.

“I get frustrated when we get caught up in politics, in relation to whether it’s a Commonwealth or state government responsibility.

“We get caught up in that all the time, and it’s infuriating and frustrating.”

Report by Melissa Jenkins.


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