St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne takes COVID-19 vaccinations directly to those in need
Pictured: Harm Reduction Practitioner Mark White (Salvation Army), Nurse Immuniser Melissa Wright (St Vincent's), Nurse Immuniser Nicole Watt (St Vincent's), Community Health Nurse Julie Martin (Bolton Clarke Homeless Persons Program), Community Care Aid Megan Anderson (Bolton Clarke Homeless Persons Program), Nurse Immuniser Elizabeth Crock (St Vincent's).
With the Government’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout progressing at pace, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne is leading a mobile outreach initiative to ensure that vulnerable Melburnians don’t get left behind.
As part of this initiative, nurses travel with a drug and alcohol harm-minimisation worker in a fully-equipped and COVID-safe mobile van to sites across metro Melbourne every week to bring healthcare directly to at-risk groups.
This includes people experiencing homelessness and people seeking asylum. Research has shown that those with the lowest socioeconomic status are more than twice as likely to be hospitalised due to vaccine preventable diseases compared to those in higher socioeconomic areas.
“We know that these communities suffer from more chronic and acute health conditions than others, and on top of that often live in unstable housing with limited access to food and medicine,” says Andrew Chan, Project Lead and Psychosocial Stream Manager of St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Health Independence Program.
St Vincent’s has a long history of taking care to the community, and in a challenging and rapidly evolving landscape, the need to make healthcare accessible is more important than ever.
“People experiencing homelessness are far less likely to attend appointment-based vaccination hubs because of logistical challenges. These individuals also face significant barriers when it comes to preventative health measures.”
“There are a large number of people sitting on the fence when it comes to vaccination. This model ensures that our nurses are there to have crucial conversations with them. They have an opportunity to discuss the pros, and what the side effects are in order to allay any concerns.”
Being able to vaccinate on the van itself also allows greater scope for sites that don’t have the facilities to allow an onsite operation.
A driving force
In partnership with Burnet Institute, Salvation Army and Bolton Clarke Homeless Persons Program (HPP), the mobile COVID-19 vaccination initiative began in July 2020.
As part of St Vincent’s COVID-19 vaccination program, it operates alongside high-volume vaccination centres at the Royal Exhibition Building and Campbellfield, and builds on an outreach program that last year focused on delivering healthcare during the pandemic.
Together with Burnett Institute and Salvation Army’s ACCESS Health, our Mobile Immunisation, Harm Reduction and Health Service visited emergency accommodation, homeless services, drop-in centres and hotels made available during lockdowns.
The service provided Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Flu vaccinations, basic health referral, and information and harm reduction services, before COVID-19 vaccines became available.
More than 800 vaccinations have been administered to date as part of the initiative.