Community partnerships increase immunisation rates for high-risk groups

Monday, 8 July 2019

Image: Woman receiving a vaccinationA local flu vaccination outreach program has provided almost 1500 free vaccinations to vulnerable people, including refugees, people experiencing homelessness, elderly people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and pregnant women.

The Outreach Influenza Program, now in its third successful year, is managed by Monash Health and funded by SEMPHN.

A helping hand during flu season

Monash Health initiated partnerships with community centres and clinics to ensure underserviced populations had access to flu vaccinations, particularly during the flu season. “We’re lucky to have these partnerships,” Veronica Abruzzo, Project Coordinator from Monash Health, explained.

“The program is built on the community’s willingness to participate. They see this as an important opportunity to access hard-to-reach populations.”

Since the program’s success during the pilot program in 2016-17, the program’s outreach significantly increased through word-of-mouth promotion across communities.

In 2019, its third year, the program reached close to 1500 people and provided flu vaccinations to refugees, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those struggling with homelessness, and the elderly. Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccinations were provided to pregnant women and their partners.

Who is involved?

The Outreach Influenza Program is managed by health professionals and immunisation experts from Monash Health including nurses, administration staff, project coordinator Veronica Abruzzo and Dr Michelle Giles, an infectious diseases and immunisation physician.

“We’re extremely lucky with this team,” Abruzzo explained. “They’re all passionate about helping the community.”

Education for community groups

“Is it a hard sell? Not at all,” Abruzzo said. “Most people have heard about vaccinations before.”

By working closely with coordinators at community centres, Monash Health was able to provide short education sessions for those who had questions or concerns about immunisation.

Vulnerable community members often have barriers to access the traditional means of immunisation, e.g. visiting a general practice or pharmacy. Barriers may include lack of awareness of local services, low health literacy or language.

By hosting vaccination sessions in places community members regularly visit, the Outreach Influenza Program presented opportunities to those who may not otherwise have had access to vaccination.

If required, the program would organise to have an interpreter present.

“It’s not just an English barrier, it’s also a cultural barrier,” Abruzzo said. With such a diverse population comes diverse perspectives on health, including whether it is appropriate to receive a vaccination.

“Part of the job is health communication,” she said.

Abruzzo highlighted the value of the program when she spoke about people experiencing homelessness attending a vaccination session.
“For us, that is priceless,” she said.

Working with SEMPHN

This is the third year that SEMPHN has commissioned Monash Health to provide an outreach immunisation service for underserviced populations. 

“We feel supported and encouraged by SEMPHN” Abruzzo said. “Without the funding provided by SEMPHN we would not be able to deliver this program.”

For more information about immunisation, visit SEMPHN’s immunisation resource page.

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