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Why mobilising community leaders is vital to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout

3 February 2021 at 4:22 pm
Luke Michael
Cohealth says the social sector can help engage hard-to-reach communities with the vaccine

Luke Michael | 3 February 2021 at 4:22 pm


Why mobilising community leaders is vital to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout
3 February 2021 at 4:22 pm

Cohealth says the social sector can help engage hard-to-reach communities with the vaccine

Community groups all have an important role to play in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable groups, sector leaders say.

The vaccine rollout is soon set to get underway in Australia, with the first round of doses expected to begin in mid-to-late February.

Not-for-profit community health service cohealth believes lessons learnt from the pandemic response must be applied to the vaccine rollout.

CEO Nicole Bartholomeusz said one of those lessons was around the importance of getting community health services to engage with vulnerable communities.

She said these organisations had deep connections with marginalised communities, including with people experiencing homelessness, refugees and asylum seekers, those living in public housing and people from culturally diverse backgrounds.  

“Community health relationships paid enormous dividends during the pandemic, enabling the spread of health information in [the languages of] hard-to-reach community members,” Bartholomeusz said.

“We have seen the benefits of employing community members to be part of the COVID response, and there is opportunity to replicate that model in the vaccination program.

“Community leaders need to be engaged to help share vaccine information, translate health advice, dispel misconceptions and identify knowledge gaps, and be part of the vaccination process.”

Dr Kim Webber, cohealth’s executive leader of strategy, told Pro Bono News that it was not just community health groups that needed to be part of the vaccine rollout. 

She said the entire community sector had an important part to play.

“All [community groups] even if they’re not in the health sector, will actually have a role in this,” Webber said.

“They are all focused mainly on people who need extra help. So they’re an important part of the messaging, not just us in the health system.”

Webber said it was important to realise that not everyone watched press conferences and looked at official government information, which meant engaging people through other means was vital.

She said this involved working with community organisations such as church groups, Islamic groups, ethnic councils and all the different ways that people get their information.

“Mobilising community leaders has been a really impressive strategy and even at cohealth we’ve hired more than 100 community leaders to provide messages to their communities in a language that’s culturally appropriate,” she said.

“And they work where the communities are, whether that be the high rise towers or in schools etc. It’s all about getting the message out to the people.”

Webber warned that failing to engage these communities could result in vulnerable cohorts missing out on the vaccine and putting their health at risk.

She added there was also a real challenge in taking the vaccine out to hard-to-reach communities and making it easy to access.

“We actually need quite large spaces [for the vaccine] because we need to provide people with information, give them their vaccination and then monitor them afterwards,” she said.

“So I think the real challenge is how we go out of communities, but also keep people safe while they’re being vaccinated.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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