A ‘vaccine conversation’ campaign at public housing high-rises in Melbourne’s north and west is being rolled out by community health service, cohealth, to dispel myths and fill information gaps about the COVID-19 vaccine.
The campaign will be delivered by cohealth’s team of nearly 100 trained multi-lingual public housing residents who act as ‘Health Concierges’. The Concierges will be stationed in the foyer of public housing towers to have conversations with fellow residents about the vaccine, often in their first language.
The Health Concierge program, funded by the Victorian State Government, has been praised as best practice community engagement, and key to ensuring ‘hard-to-reach’ communities who may have low health literacy are able to access the vaccine. The program ensures residents are informed about lockdowns and outbreaks and vaccinations.
“This model puts everyday community members at the centre of the COVID recovery, building their capacity to lead their own community through the vaccine rollout,” said Nicole Bartholomeusz, Chief Executive, cohealth.
“We can’t simply rely on Government websites, or translated fliers, to convey vaccine information. People want to talk about the vaccine with someone they trust who has shared experiences and speaks their language,” said Ms Bartholmeusz.
“The role of our Health Concierges is to turn government speak into community speak, to dispel myths, and guide people to reliable and accurate information.”
The hard lockdown of residents of high-rise towers has also created a feeling of mistrust of authority, says cohealth, so finding new ways to get vaccine information to them is key.
“People living in public housing are often facing a range of other disadvantages which make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, so it is vital that the vaccine reaches them.”
“Residents of public housing are more likely to be living on a low income, have chronic health conditions or disability, and have a history of trauma.”
The Health Concierge team are equipped with vaccine information resources in English and other languages which can be shared with fellow residents. The Health Concierges also provide residents with face masks and hand sanitiser.
A cohealth survey conducted in January of 630 residents of public and community housing, rooming houses and other shared accommodation found that one-third of respondents reported that they needed more clear information in order to decide on getting the vaccine.
Only 2.5 per cent said they would not get the vaccine for religious of cultural reasons, and 14 per cent said that they needed more information to assure them that the vaccine was medically safe. Nearly 1-in-4 of those who were surveyed needed information in a language other than English.
“The people who live in public and community housing and other high-density housing have the same questions and concerns about the vaccine as the rest of the population. Our job is to make sure they can access accurate, factual information via a source that they trust,” said Ms Bartholmeusz.
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cohealth is a Victorian not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all. It provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical, oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services.