Vaccine access for the vulnerable

Vaccine access for the vulnerable

Words by Matt Harvey 

Nurses from St Vincent’s Hospital have teamed up with Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) to provide vaccine access to those experiencing, or at risk, of homelessness.

The jabs are provided via a mobile van which previously focused on flu, hepatitis, and other vaccines at various sites, but with the arrival of COVID vaccines, a new opportunity arose.

Andrew Chan, the manager of the St Vincent’s mobile vaccination service, said the collaboration was thanks entirely to the nursing staff on the bus.

“The nurses flagged with me and said ‘Is ASRC an option around providing some of the vaccine access?’ and we said, ‘yeah, absolutely’,” Mr Chan said.

The van currently runs four days a week and has enough funding to operate until December moving from location to location with regular returns for double dose recipients.

Mr Chan said the access options were not the same as for those who were going to their GP, people will not need a Medicare number to receive their vaccine.

“We’re pretty flexible,” Mr Chan said.


You do need some form of identification because what the nurses do is they check back on the individual’s immunisation record, just to make sure that they give them, if it’s a second dose, they make sure they give them the right second dose.


Bookings are not essential to access the van, but identification is required for registration. The van can usually provide between 30 and 40 jabs a day.

“We usually have a marquee set up and we usually offer coffee and tea,” Mr Chan said.

Mr Chan said making the van as safe and accessible as possible was a priority for the team.

“I guess the main thing is if we provide them with a safe environment the first time, they get vaccinated and they feel comfortable and hopefully they can come back in that four- to six-week period,” Mr Chan said.

But while Australia’s most vulnerable citizens are finding ways to access the vaccine, there is another community of vulnerable people who are having a much harder time.

A vaccination hub at Melbourne Town Hall, led by the City of Melbourne in partnership with Cohealth, continues to operate offering the city’s most vulnerable the opportunity to access the jab.

Since opening on September 1, Cohealth has vaccinated more than 6000 people – with a focus on those experiencing homelessness, international students, refugees and people with low English literacy.

And the numbers prove that the targeted approach has worked, with around two-thirds being international students who don’t have Medicare cards, 54 per cent aged in their 20s and 81 per cent born overseas

The council said that the top five countries of birth for those who’ve accessed the service are China, Australia, India, Colombia and Vietnam, while the top three preferred languages (other than English) were Mandarin, Spanish and Vietnamese.

“The vaccination centre has hit the target in reaching vulnerable community members in the CBD, and now it’s time to open the doors even wider and encourage all City of Melbourne residents to visit the Melbourne Town Hall for vaccination,” Nicole Bartholomeusz, chief executive of Cohealth, said.

“We’ve been thrilled with the turnout at the Melbourne Town Hall, especially from people in their 20s and 30s who became eligible for vaccination later in the rollout.”

“Providing young people with access to the vaccine is critical to successfully opening Victoria back up, because young people are more mobile and likely to be interacting in work and social situations.”

“There has been an overwhelming uptake from culturally and linguistically diverse communities to access the vaccine which shows that providing a culturally safe offering combined with our community engagement approach works.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said welcoming the wider community to Town Hall’s vaccination centre will help Melbourne reopen as safely as possible.

“We want Victoria to be Australia’s most vaccinated state and opening our Town Hall vaccination centre to all residents will make it even easier for Melburnians to get the jab,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We want to bring the buzz back to Melbourne and support our city business owners, and the best way we can do that is by hitting Victoria’s vaccination targets.”

The Cohealth Melbourne Town Hall vaccination centre is open Monday to Friday, 10.15am to 4.30pm. Walk-ins are welcome. To book a vaccination appointment call 1800 675 398 •

Caption: A St Vincent’s nurse in the mobile vaccination van.

Like us on Facebook