When the pandemic hit, many people in the community needed support. Those in self-quarantine needed groceries, international students needed food and financial assistance, and people in high-risk groups needed counselling and practical tips to cope.
But one large group fell through the cracks – those who had not gotten the flu vaccine. Across Australia, everyone was being urged to get the vaccine to reduce the risk of catching the seasonal flu or the coronavirus, or sometimes even both. And yet, many in the Indian and other multicultural communities didn’t know about it or were too worried to go get it.
“We discovered that 80 per cent of our community had not had a flu vaccine in the past. We realised that we had to provide information, educate them on the vaccine, and make the vaccination more accessible,” explained Deepak Bhardwaj, CEO of Multicultural Communities Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that works with migrant communities.
After spending a couple of months setting up the project, Adelaide’s MCA launched a community project called “Healthy Communities” on 3 June 2020. Till the end of the month, they provided free flu vaccinations for vulnerable and needy community members, administered by trained pharmacists from local Cumberland Park chemist TerryWhite Chemmart.
Anyone aged 10 years and older were eligible, but MCA particularly kept in mind those in the community who may not take the vaccination due to financial constraints and may not have Medicare Cards. This included new migrants, international students, visiting parents, and tourist visa holders.
“We would literally go around to parks and other public places. We would ask whoever we saw there, particularly older people, if they had gotten the flu vaccine. We would also tell them the importance of getting vaccinated,” Bharadwaj told Indian Link.
The project flyer was translated into 15 different languages including English, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Farsi, Mandarin, Nepalese, Gujarati, Malay, Arabic, Filipino, Greek, Italian, Bangla and Pashtun, for better reach.
To improve the scope of the “Healthy Communities” project, MCA’s volunteers also went to places of worship like mosques, gurudwaras, and temples. They made verbal announcements, talked to individuals, and put up posters. At universities, many international students approached them to ask if they were eligible, which they were.
More than 500 people were vaccinated in just three weeks. Because of the project’s success, MCA even extended it to regional and rural areas of South Australia and Victoria. In Port Augusta and Whyalla, they worked with Aussie Discount Chemist at Quorn. In Port Pirie, they liaised with Risdon Pharmacy. In Merbein, they worked with Keens Pharmacy which covers the regional areas around Mildura in Victoria.
By the end of June, the “Healthy Communities” project had reached its target. Because of its importance and success, the pharmacists also agreed to provide discounted vaccinations to people referred by MCA even after the project ended.
Deepak Bhardwaj of MCA is delighted that the successful project provided direct support and empowered multicultural communities in South Australia. In the future, he hopes MCA can work with GPs to provide pro-bono work for vulnerable people not on Medicare. Future plans include similar projects in Darwin and Melbourne.
Here’s to immunising, educating, and empowering multicultural communities across Australia!