Why Australia's multicultural communities are calling for tailored coronavirus vaccine information

From stopping misinformation spreading to the potential to save lives, multicultural community leaders in Australia say there are a number of reasons why it's paramount COVID-19 vaccine information is communicated clearly in-language and through multiple avenues.

Vaccine messaging

Source: SBS News/Nick Mooney

Accurately informing Australia's culturally and linguistically diverse communities about coronavirus has proved to be something of a sticking point for authorities during the pandemic. 

 in federal and state government health messages have been uncovered, while it was revealed as recently as last month some people in multicultural communities in NSW .

It’s one thing overcoming misinformation in English - but what about when it’s circulating in dozens of different languages? 

The federal government unveiled  about COVID-19 vaccines last week, but concern about whether it will cut through and reach all of Australia's multicultural communities lingers.

Here, community leaders explain why it’s critical authorities communicate clearly with multicultural Australians in-language and through a range of channels about the vaccine.

'Conspiracy theories' are spreading

Australian Arabic Council Chairman Roland Jabbour says confusion about where to find vaccine information in-language has left some people in the Arabic community to seek out their own information - and it hasn’t always been truthful.

“Members of the community talk to each other and they communicate information that is not necessarily accurate. There are a number of conspiracy theories that are spreading around," he said. 

To counter this, Mr Jabbour says it’ll be important for authorities to engage community leaders throughout the rest of the pandemic.

“The focus needs to be to reach out to those community groups - reach out to community leaders so this information can be disseminated and perceived to be coming from a trusted source,” he said.

Social worker and Sydney-based African youth leader Murray-Jo Kamara says misinformation has been spreading among young Africans in Australia, particularly through social media.

He agrees tapping into community networks will greatly help cut through the inaccuracies.

“If the information is coming from organisations or community groups that they trust, people can take it seriously,” he said.

“We have young community organisations - [such as] sports groups and social groups - that young people trust. So, if those messages can come from those people, it'll be very important to them.” 

Not everyone gets information from mainstream media

Africa Health Australia chair Vincent Ogu says sections of Australia's African communities won't necessarily go to mainstream media or traditional sources for vaccine information.

“The community does not always access information from mainstream media, so there is a need to explore those channels, avenues, sources which the community - particularly people from non-English speaking backgrounds - usually tap into,” he said. 

“Those avenues already exist - community-based organisations who can use local languages to translate information, so that people will begin to appreciate and trust the source of the information.” 

Dr Vincent Ogu, the chair of Africa Health Australia.
Dr Vincent Ogu, the chair of Africa Health Australia. Source: SBS News/Bernadette Clarke

Some multicultural groups are also creating their own in-language vaccine information to make sure it comes from trusted community sources and is translated correctly.

“We are thinking that as soon as the rollout comes, we will develop a flyer which we will circulate among all of our member organisations,” Hindu Council of Australia President Prakash Mehta said. “Plus, we’ll do some webinars with our doctors in the Hindu community and with some government representatives.” 

Mr Mehta says having information in Hindi, Tamil and Punjabi will greatly benefit older sections of Australia’s Hindu community.

“Most of the Hindu population here understands English, but some older people or some parents might not, so that will help in further promoting the vaccine,” he said.

It's potentially a matter of life and death

Mukesh Haikerwal is a general practitioner in Hobsons Bay, one of the most culturally diverse municipalities in Victoria. 

He says getting the right vaccination information out to non-English speaking communities could save lives.

"We obviously have a diverse community that we as Australians are a part of, and we celebrate that - but with that is a requirement to make sure that when we are doing ... something as important as this, that all of our community get a very good steer about what is going on," he said.

"We need messaging in many languages, we need that in a written form, we also need it in clips - in a way that people can listen to it or view it on social media or other platforms." 

Dr Haikerwal says linguistically diverse communities need the same standard of vaccine messaging afforded to Australia's English-speaking population and GPs are in a unique position to help.

"Vaccination is something that we've seen save lives over generations, and in Australia, that's done by the general practitioner," he said.

"We've got a large workforce of GPs who are also multilingual, and they can actually help people understand in their own languages what the needs are and what the concerns might be, and help them allay the fears." 

What's the government doing to get information to everyone?

The Department of Health says the new $23.9 million vaccine information campaign will “support all Australians, including culturally and linguistically diverse communities”.

“It will be important they receive information they can understand, including translated materials, and that work is underway,” a spokesperson told SBS News.

“A range of non-advertising resources for multicultural communities are also being developed, including radio and print editorials, videos on how to stay informed, a video development guide for community leaders to film their own videos, in-language web content, social media posts, posters [and] newsletter articles."

The spokesperson said stakeholder feedback will inform any adaptions of the materials and as more information becomes available the Department will provide "timely updates" through its channels.

The Department is also working with SBS to finalise video content explaining vaccines and safety, approval processes, priority groups and how to stay informed. SBS is recording the information in 63 languages, and it is set for release on 22 February.

State and territory governments will also provide information about on-site translators as vaccination sites are confirmed, the spokesperson said.

Which visa holders are eligible for a free vaccine?

Another point of confusion in some multicultural communities has been who will have access to vaccines.

The Australian government says the vaccines will be free for all Australian citizens, permanent residents and "most" visa holders.

That means anyone in Australia on a student, working, skilled, family, partner, refugee, humanitarian, regional, bridging or special visa is eligible for a free jab.

However, people on the following four types of visas will not be eligible:

  • Subclass 600 - tourist
  • Subclass 771 - transit
  • Subclass 651 - eVisitor
  • Subclass 601 - electronic travel authority 
Approximately 69,000 people are currently in Australia on those four visas, according to the Department of Home Affairs.

None of those visas are residency visas; they are all granted for short periods of time ranging from 72 hours to 12 months for purposes such as tourism or visiting friends or family, and they do not grant the holder working rights.

However, the Department of Health says the government is “considering” visa holders in those four categories and if and where they may fit into Australia’s vaccine rollout plan. 

Additional reporting by Amelia Dunn.

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7 min read
Published 2 February 2021 at 5:35am
By Claudia Farhart