Specific vaccination targets needed to protect the vulnerable
23 August 2021 at 5:01 pm
Community leaders say simply relying on a national target to reopen the country will put vulnerable groups at risk
National Cabinet must set specific vaccination targets for high-risk groups to ensure vulnerable people are not left dangerously exposed to COVID-19 once the nation reopens, the community sector has warned.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recently urged state and territory governments to open up the country once COVID vaccination rates hit 70 per cent or 80 per cent of the eligible population.
Under a National Cabinet plan agreed to by state and territory leaders, lockdowns would be “unlikely” when 70 per cent of the adult population is vaccinated, while only “highly targeted lockdowns” would be enforced once the rate hits 80 per cent.
But the high case numbers currently plaguing New South Wales has led some premiers to question the re-opening targets, and now the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has expressed its concerns about the plan.
ACOSS has written an open letter to National Cabinet urging it to develop vaccination targets that are specific to population groups and locations.
The letter warns that focusing on a national target risks “masking areas or populations where rates are much lower, leaving those groups or places dangerously exposed”.
“Expert advice confirms that there is a serious risk that people often most at risk of the ravages of COVID are also most at risk of not achieving vaccination rates equal to or above the national rate,” the letter said.
The welfare peak body has sent National Cabinet its Community Sector Vaccination Principles, which note that priority groups could include people from lower socio-economic groups, those experiencing homelessness or insecure housing, people with disability, and refugees and asylum seekers.
The document explains that any targets used as pre-conditions for lifting restrictions need to be set specifically for disadvantaged groups, such as 80 per cent of all groups rather than just 80 per cent of the total population.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said high-risk groups were being left behind in the vaccination rollout.
“There are many barriers that make accessing vaccinations harder for different groups of people,” Goldie said.
“This can include where vaccines are available, whether they are being delivered by trusted people and communities, work or home responsibilities that limit access and more.”
Data transparency and community partnerships vital
The letter also calls on governments to start regularly publishing data outlining the vaccination status for different priority population groups and locations.
Goldie said timely population and location-specific data will encourage more people to get vaccinated while also supporting community-led strategies.
“It’s crucial that up-to-date data is released publicly at least weekly to clearly show local vaccination rates, as well as rates by population group, for example, by Indigeneity, country of birth, language spoken at home, and disability,” she said.
“By making this data as transparent and as timely as possible we can all clearly see where efforts need to be urgently targeted.”
ACOSS believes the rollout could be further improved by strengthening and resourcing partnerships with the community sector to ensure vaccinations are accessible for all.
Goldie said the community sector was “absolutely committed” to helping high-risk groups stay safe and protected during the pandemic.
“Trusted community leaders and groups are out there encouraging vaccination with great success,” she said.
You can see the full open letter here.