cohealth nurse immuniser, Martina Noronha, says her special scrubs featuring Aboriginal designs were especially appreciated when she joined the mobile vaccination team travelling to regional Aboriginal communities.
cohealth and the Victorian Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), have visited eight regional Victorian sites in recent weeks to take the vaccine to people in the Aboriginal community who might not otherwise access vaccinations.
Using the VACCHO van, and working with local Aboriginal healthcare workers, the cohealth vaccination team visited Aboriginal community health centres and schools and even set-up pop-up clinics in parks and gardens where generators were used to power the medical eskies that keep the vaccine at the required temperature.
In total the team vaccinated over 400 people through a mix of appointments and walk-ins. Everyone from the community was welcome, including people who do not identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
cohealth nurse immuniser, Martina Noronha, says that she is passionate about Indigenous health and has a special connection to culture because her own mother was part of the stolen generation.
Martina says that she had three sets of special scrubs made for herself from fabric featuring Aboriginal designs, and that wearing them helps create an immediate connection with clients.
“I asked an Aboriginal woman to make me scrubs from the material she uses to make dolls. I always get comments. When we were in Swan Hill, a woman from the community stopped and told me she loved my scrubs. The artwork tells a story,” said Martina.
As well as helping show her unity with the community, the colourful scrubs are popular with kids, says Martina.
“The bright greens and pinks help distract them. By the time I’ve asked them to name all the colours on the uniform, the vaccination is done!”
“The community response to this outreach has been really positive. In some of the regions we visited there have been quite a few cases in the community, so people were coming to get their booster because they wanted to protect themselves, and each other,” said Martina.
“One man wanted his first dose but was still feeling hesitant. I had a chat with him in the waiting room where he felt comfortable. I told him I’d done thousands of vaccinations.”
“I explained that I had COVID twice – once when I was unvaccinated at the beginning of the pandemic, and then a second time after my vaccination,” she said.
“The second time it just felt like I had hayfever. That was the difference between having the vaccine and not having vaccine. After we talked, he said he felt comfortable to get vaccinated.”
Martina says that a grandmother arrived with her grandchildren and wanted them vaccinated. She had brought signed consent forms from the parents.
“She wanted me to explain to the children why it was important and give them the facts. She wanted them to get their information from me, not TikTok.”
VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher is very pleased to be working with cohealth to get the vans back on the road and believes they will be an excellent addition to the great work achieved by Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations across Victoria.
“I’ve been so proud of the way the vans have been welcomed with open arms – it has been incredible. We have seen some great outcomes achieved by the ACCO vaccine van. This reflects what trust looks like in the community,” said Ms Gallagher.
“With the high number of cases we are seeing across the state, it is crucial to focus on the important COVID-safe initiatives and pathways that help keep the community protected.”
Deputy Chief Executive, Chris Turner, said that the success of the mobile vaccination relies on the partnership with VACCHO, and utilising spaces that are familiar and welcoming for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“By taking the vaccine to culturally safe spaces where Aboriginal Victorians are already accessing services, we are removing some of the barriers to vaccination,” said Mr Turner.
“Rather than relying on people to navigate the mainstream health system and find their way to a vaccination hub, we’re going to them,” he said.
cohealth / VACCHO vaccination clinics:
Images (below): cohealth immunisation nurse, Martina (in colourful green top) with Aboriginal healthcare workers and vaccination staff at a pop-up vaccination clinic at a park in Stawell (regional Victoria).