The Community Services Industry has played a vital role in helping communities and individuals through the pandemic. The vaccine program is the next big challenge – and the potential solution – for the pandemic.

Your organisation can play an important role in making sure the vaccine program is a success.

Why is the vaccine program important?

As we have heard for a year now, we will be living with this virus, and all the health, social and economic impacts, until we have a vaccine. But it is only when we have enough people vaccinated that we can achieve so-called herd immunity and begin to live safely with this virus in the community.

There are many reasons why achieving a high vaccination rate is important. It will reduce the incidence of serious illness, prevent deaths, protect vulnerable people who cannot be vaccinated, and help us to reach herd immunity.

A high rate of vaccination will also make outbreaks less likely, so lockdowns, border closures and other restrictions are required less often.

Not everyone will choose to be vaccinated

Australia has one of the highest immunisation rates in the world, and this has served the health of our nation well.

Of course, no-one can be forced to be vaccinated.

Some people may choose not to be vaccinated for personal reasons. And some individuals with underlying health issues cannot be vaccinated. Some may choose to delay getting vaccinated or may need to better understand the risks and benefits in a cultural context.

As an Industry, it is important that we focus on informed choice.

Individual and community empowerment is at the core of community services, and we have much to offer in this area. We should focus on empowering people to make the choice that is right for them and for the wider community.

This involves challenging myths and misconceptions, providing information and support in various languages and cultural contexts, and generally reinforcing public health messages.

It also involves respecting those who choose not to be vaccinated and ensuring they are not disadvantaged or treated badly as a consequence.

What role can Community Services play?

The Community Services Industry is well placed to lead the community participation in the vaccine roll out.

We can do this by:

  • actively informing and educating our communities,
  • advocating for the needs of particular groups and hard-to-reach populations,
  • supporting informed choice,
  • assisting with vaccine access, and
  • providing advice to health authorities to improve the program.

To do this well, we need to educate and equip ourselves.

This means taking an active role in understanding the vaccine program, how it will roll out, where to access information resources and how to find answers to questions that might come up.

Queensland Health has all the information and support you need during this important time. Resources are available for:

QCOSS has a great resource of frequently asked questions worth checking out on Community Door.

You can also link with local health agencies and ensure local plans take account of our clients, communities and workforce.

Community Services can play a particularly important role in understanding where there are gaps in information or barriers to accessing the vaccine in our communities. This is particularly important for marginalised groups, hard-to-reach populations and those who do not engage with the health system.

Education is not just information

Health promotion specialists know that behaviour change is not achieved by information alone.

To ensure we have high vaccination rates, we can help create an environment that supports the health messages and encourages vaccination.

In addition to providing the information, we can dispel myths about the vaccine, provide support for people to make informed choice and reinforce the messages over time.

As we uncover issues and concerns, we can work with health authorities and others to address these, and with local community leaders to become active in the vaccine effort.

We also have a role to play in educating and supporting our staff and volunteers to understand and participate in the vaccine program.

The Commonwealth Government will soon release TV ads, posters and pamphlets that shape these messages and provide key information.

As well as helping to display and distribute this material, we can play an important role in helping people to digest the information and make their own choice at the time that is right for them.

We can use our roles in providing supports, delivering programs, facilitating support groups, delivering counselling, conducting outreach and community events to reinforce the vaccine campaign messages and help individuals and groups to make their own choices.

We will need to do this over much of 2021. Reinforcing the messages and information over time is important. Respond to new questions and concerns, and give people time to explore their choice at their own pace.

What if our clients don’t believe in the vaccine?

Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, and no-one can be forced to have a vaccine.

However, childhood vaccination rates in Australia reached 95% of children under 5 years in December 2020. The reality is that the vast majority of Australians are vaccinated for a range of preventable illnesses.

As an Industry we have an obligation to promote the health of the community, and we should always do so in the context of informed choice.

It is not our role to convince people to have or not have the vaccine. But it should be our role to do what we can to make sure that choice is made consciously and with the best available information.

If we do this well as an Industry, we will play our part in ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information and resources to support your communications about the COVID-19 vaccine visit the Queensland Health website.