Multicultural support groups call for changes to ‘fully vaccinated’ messaging

Leaders of culturally and linguistically diverse communities say there needs to be a rethink of what it means to be fully vaccinated to bolster the uptake of the COVID-19 booster shot.

A healthcare worker is seen prepping COVID-19 vaccination at the vaccination centre at Sandown Racecourse in Melbourne.

A healthcare worker is seen prepping COVID-19 vaccination at the vaccination centre at Sandown Racecourse in Melbourne. Source: AAP

Community support organisations have called for a change in what it means to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to support their efforts in helping culturally and linguistically diverse communities to roll up their sleeves.

While the federal, state and territory governments are urging people to get a booster dose, individuals are still considered fully vaccinated if they have received two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Archangelo Nyuol Madut is the program manager for two Victorian-based community support groups in the local government areas (LGAs) of Brimbank, northwest of Melbourne, and Casey, southeast of the city, that work closely with the South Sudanese community.

Mr Madut believes there were assumptions made about people who had received two vaccine doses, and that they would willingly seek a booster dose.

But this is not always the case.

Archangelo Nyuol Madut, (CMY) Program Manager, Community Support Groups
Community support groups program manager Archangelo Nyuol Madut. Source: SBS

He said his groups had helped thousands from the South Sudanese community get vaccinated. But they would now need to go back and help vulnerable community members understand why it's important to get a booster shot.

Asked if he believed being fully vaccinated should require three doses, he said: "Exactly."

"When you talk about a booster, the problem is sometimes it has a negative connotation to it," Mr Madut said. "It could mean that it's about boosting your immunity, but you could not have it and still do ok."

"So it's important that messages are designed in a way so that people understand them, and that this is a vital tool for you to be fully protected [against COVID-19]."

Dr Bulent Hass Dellal is the executive director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, which auspices the Northern Community Support Group (Northern CSG) — an organisation that assists Muslim communities in the greater Melbourne LGAs of Hume, Moreland and Whittlesea.

Dr Dellal said Northern CSG's focus was getting booster shots into people's arms, and he believed vaccination messaging from health authorities needed to change.

"I think we need to look at the fact that it's not just the two vaccination doses anymore, it's moved on," Dr Dellal said.

"People are lining up for their booster, but I think they need to understand that eventually a fourth or fifth booster could be required.

"At the moment what we're saying is it is three vaccinations and you're fully vaccinated. But ... there are some countries on their fourth booster, so I think preparation is important so there are no surprises in terms of this."

Community groups get funding boost

It comes after the Victorian announced on Monday that $1.2 million would be distributed among eight community support organisations.

This will assist them in helping community members organise COVID-19 vaccinations and get to appointments. The money will also be used to help combat COVID-related misinformation.

Mr Madut and Dr Dellal's groups are among the recipients, which also include the Junubi Wyndham, Komak, and Himilo Community Connect support groups, the Le Mana Pasifika Project and The Huddle.

"Our focus will on at-risk young people and people who may have difficulty in accessing vaccine appointments," Dr Dellal said.

"So ... we will be scheduling vaccine appointments for those who are unable to do so, organising transport and child-minding services so people can attend appointments."

Australian Multicultural Foundation executive director Dr Bulent Hass Dellal.
Australian Multicultural Foundation executive director Dr Bulent Hass Dellal. Source: Supplied

Both Mr Madut and Dr Dellal said one of the most important things the extra funding would assist with was providing caseworkers.

"One of the things that will be interesting throughout this process with our caseworkers is to find out the level of any vaccine hesitancy that still exists, and then how best to address that," Dr Dellal said.

"With this funding, we will be able to find out not only what the barriers [to getting a COVID-19 vaccine] exist, but part of those barriers could be vaccine hesitancy, and we'll be able to know a bit more about some of those issues or what is really preventing people from getting a vaccine."

Mr Madut said case management work was a "very powerful approach".

He said providing "individual attention" to community members often helped overcome vaccine fears or hesitancy.

"Our staff are able to reach out to members of the community properly to talk to them and assess their needs, the fears that they have, and then be able to give them the right information ... to correct all this [COVID-19] misinformation," Mr Madut said.

Cameron McLeod — who is CEO of The Huddle, a joint initiative of the North Melbourne Football Club, the Scanlon Foundation, and the Australian Multicultural Foundation — said the group would be working closely with the Victorian government and multicultural communities across Australia to support young people and their families to get vaccinated.

"We know ... that having the latest health information is really critical. So we'll be conducting a range of online and in-person educational forums in Somali, Arabic, Tigrinya and Dinka, and that will hopefully give as much information in real-time to mothers and parents that need it to make decisions on behalf of their children," Mr McLeod said.

He said participants would have access to medical professionals from multicultural backgrounds throughout these forums, who will be available to answer questions.

The Huddle would also be supporting those who test positive for COVID-19.

"There's provisions in place to allow those people access to childcare, and provide them with opportunities to be transported to health providers so they can get the help they need," he said.

A Victorian Government spokesperson said "some of Victoria's most diverse communities are among our most vaccinated".

“We know that culturally and linguistically diverse communities want to be protected like any other community, and that’s why we have maintained our focus on targeted engagement, translations, combating misinformation and ensuring strong links between the vaccination program, local community leaders and local GPs, pharmacies and public health unit," the spokesperson said.

With additional reporting by Brooke Young.

6 min read
Published 19 January 2022 at 12:06pm
By David Aidone
Source: SBS