It may have seemed like a brief conversation with a cohealth nurse was all it took for Maria to decide to get vaccinated, but the conversation was actually the culmination of 15 months of community engagement at the public housing high rises.
Hoddle Street public housing high-rise resident, Maria, came to the cohealth community fun day at Wellington St high-rise to enjoy the music and enjoy some delicious food, but by the time she left she was fully vaccinated with her second dose of Pfizer.
The mother of three children, aged 6, 8 and 12, brought her kids to the event so they could see their friends and family and enjoy the festivities after school. Along with music, free food and giveaways, the cohealth vaccination team had set up a pop-up clinic on the basketball court.
“My older daughter saw the flier and asked if I could bring her. She is 12 and said she wanted to get vaccinated while she was here. But I just wanted to come to have some food and see my friends,” said Maria.
Maria had her first vaccination two months prior but had had some side effects and was adamant she didn’t want to get the second dose.
“I felt sick after the first time. It was bad for me. It made me think ‘no more vaccination for me’,” said Maria.
Demonstrating the power of community engagement, cohealth community nurse, Sally Plunkett, was circulating through the crowd and talking to people attending the event about vaccination when she got chatting to Maria.
During the conversation Maria revealed her worries about getting a second jab, and Sally was able to allay some of her fears and provide accurate information.
“Maria and I talked, and I listened to her concerns and made sure she felt heard. Then I helped her understand some of the side effects she said she’d experienced. I also talked to her about the benefits of being fully vaccinated, especially with the new restrictions on people who are unvaccinated,” said Sally.
After more talking, Maria decided that she should get her second dose, and Sally took her to the cohealth marquee where the vaccinations were happening.
These opportunistic conversations have been a vital part of the vaccination rollout, says Sally. But developing trust hasn’t happened overnight; it’s taken 15 months of cohealth being onsite daily.
“I’ve been based at Wellington St high-rise as a community health nurse since September 2020. I reflect on my time as a community health nurse and sometimes I ask ‘am I making a difference?’, and then a group of kids from the high-rise will walk past and say ‘hi Sally!’ and give me a big smile. And I realise that they’ve accepted me into their community,” said Sally.
“I know a lot of the residents by face and name now. It takes a long time to develop enough trust where they’ll let you be part of their life. So as much as we might want to parachute ourselves in with big ideas and go full throttle, we just have to go slowly and allow the residents to get to know us. It is like peeling away the layers of an onion. With each layer you get to know the people better and they know you better.”
“All the time we’ve invested here at the high-rise is paying dividends now,” said Sally.
“I really feel like the next 6-12 months is going to be phenomenal. As we pivot out of COVID we’ll be shifting our focus to health promotion, tackling social inequality and improving access to GPs and allied health.”
“There’s no resistance to us. What we have now is gold. They’ve embraced us.”