The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) have launched dedicated Vaccine Vans.

The vans, which will travel through Greater Shepparton and Latrobe Valley, are crucial in making the COVID-19 vaccine available to the Indigenous community who’ve faced barriers accessing the vaccine so far.

“Building on the hard work of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations across the state – the vans will boost support of COVID-19 vaccine delivery to community members during regional residencies across Victoria over the coming weeks,” said VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher.

Gallagher stressed the urgent need for this initiative and vaccinating the community given the record high case numbers in the state, and the plans to open up restrictions as vaccination rates improve.

“We must be mindful of the fact that risk factors for COVID-19 are disproportionately higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.

“[This is] due to a combination of factors including pre-existing health concerns, pressing mental health and wellbeing issues, and people living in overcrowded or transient accommodation.”

Victorian Minister for Health, Ambulance Services and Equality Martin Foley announced the Vaccine Vans run by VACCHO would be in partnership with the Victorian Government to improve vaccination rates in a community which are lagging behind the rest of the state at only 65 per cent first dose.

Foley further announced that from 1 October, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be able to get vaccinated at any state-run vaccination centre in Victoria without an appointment.

“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations across Victoria have led the way in keeping community safe, informed and healthy with astounding results.”

“These vans will boost community-led efforts to ensure that all members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community have access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe told the National Indigenous Times the vans were a “great example of First Nations people sitting in the driver’s seat when this government fails our communities”.

“The vaccine vans address barriers to First Nations health that the Morrison government have ignored, like distance from healthcare providers and lack of transport,” she said.

“The Morrison government needs to listen to the experts and follow our lead. First Nations people know what our communities need to be and stay well. We have the solutions, and presented them to this government over 18 months ago.”

Senator Thorpe praised VACCHO and similar health services around the country.

“Our Aboriginal health services are the key to reaching our people. They provide holistic cultural care at the grassroots level,” she said.

“If this government really wants to close the gap, then fund these services adequately and allow our services to self-determine what’s best for us.”

Dr Dawn Casey, Deputy CEO of NACCHO and Co-Chair on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19, reiterated NACCHO’s support for their Victorian counterpart’s initiative, before addressing vaccination as a whole.

“The vaccination vans initiated by VACCHO is a great idea and add the range of options being used across the country to facilitate the vaccine roll out,” she said.

“Most importantly the Commonwealth Government is working in partnership with the sector on the vaccine roll out.”

Casey reiterated the range of support the Government is giving ACCHOs, including liaison officers, surge workforce and community engagement grants, and weekly engagement with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health sector.

By Aaron Bloch