Vaccine lag ‘critical’ in Greater Dandenong

Cr Rhonda Garad with some of the team of community leaders pushing for a boost to Greater Dandenong's Covid vaccination rate. 250318_02 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong risks being a “sitting duck” unless it lifts its lagging Covid vaccination rate, a public health researcher says.

In a race against time, a multi-agency, multi-government push is targeting Greater Dandenong as one of the lowest vaccinated areas in the state.

As of 5 September, just under half of residents over 16 in the council area had a single jab.

Just 28 per cent were double-jabbed.

It’s well behind Victoria’s average of 65.5 per cent (single dose) and 40.5 per cent (double dose) as of 11 September.

Monash University public health researcher and Greater Dandenong councillor Rhonda Garad said the situation was critical as Melbourne approached the thresholds to lift Covid restrictions.

If Greater Dandenong didn’t bridge the gap in coming weeks, it would be stuck in lockdown for longer or high numbers of unvaccinated people would be exposed to the pandemic.

It would take an “extraordinary, whole of community effort to prevent Covid causing deaths and long-term illness in Dandenong”, Cr Garad said.

“We are a sitting duck for high infection rates with our low vaccination rates and vulnerable community.

“The next month will be crucial to getting rates up before the Covid cases increase significantly.”

Greater Dandenong and Casey councils, Monash Health, Monash University, Enliven Victoria, South East Public Health Unit and the Department of Health are partnering in the vaccine promotion.

Pop-up vaccine hubs are set for mosques in Doveton and Hallam with also one targeting the Pacific Islander community.

Also among the push is Enliven’s team of 90 bicultural workers and community champions providing accurate information to the area’s diverse communities.

Enliven’s operations executive director Cinzia Theobald said the aim of the workers was to ensure “access to Covid vaccinations is easy” and “information is clear, factual and meaningful including being respectful to faith and other customs”.

Cr Garad says among the biggest concerns is dispelling the myths among the vaccine-hesitant.

“That’s where the Enliven community workers come into their own. They can speak to the specific community concerns.”

For example, a misinformed cohort were holding off being vaccinated because they had heard a Federal Opposition call for $300 handout incentives.

“It’s only intelligence that you can get from people closely connected in the community that you can find out these issues.

“It would be a tragedy if someone were to get ill and possibly die waiting for a handout that was never going to happen.”

Greater Dandenong Council is also providing its community bus service to transport refugee families to vaccination sessions.

Last week, 15 Burmese refugees were driven for doses at Sandown vaccination hub.

The weekly run is done in partnership with Monash Health, Enliven and South East Community Links.

Greater Dandenong communications executive manager Kylie Sprague said the council was promoting Covid tests and vaccinations on social media and its Council News, screens and networks.

The council had developed and printed vaccine factsheets in 21 languages to “priority communities”.