By Mabor Chadhuol
The multicultural young people aged 12 to 24 years, who are affected by substance abuse around the Inner North: Collingwood, Richmond, Flemington, North Melbourne, the western suburbs: Tarneit, Truganina, Werribee, Melton, St. Albans, Sunshine, and Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne are covering an extensive geographical area that should concern the government. These youths are the most isolated and vulnerable to COVID-19 infections. The reasons being that they are:
- mobile or constantly on the move.
- lack of frequent contact with healthcare services.
- lack permanent addresses.
- access to the timely positive COVID-19 messaging from the Department of Health, primary healthcare and community service providers.
- mostly drinking with their peer groups.
- living in small over-crowded public housing or rental properties.
The groups do not adhere to the public health measures and restrictions that the Victorian or other states impose to avert catastrophes of infections, reinfections or viral transmission within the communities.
These young people affected by substance abuse see the vaccines as unnecessary with the whole community appears full of misinformation. However, due to lived experience of their homelands during the COVID-19 pandemic and settlement challenges in Australia, these families are reluctantly engaging with the public health messaging. It will mean that these groups will instead lead to refusal to take vaccines when they have their time to take the COVID-19 vaccines.
The healthcare systems should put efforts into place to counter their perceptions towards the COVID-19 vaccines. Apart from misinformation, the extent to which a family’s traditional societal structure may affect most young people to get vaccines cannot be underestimated. Some family members, either from affluent or poor backgrounds, do not believe that vaccines have any protective qualities, speculating that some vaccines are important and cannot work well against COVID-19.
While food insecurity and mental health surged amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and impending COVID-19 vaccine uptake, we had an excellent opportunity to meet many families, single parents, and young people during the Sudanese Mothers Coalition food distribution. In one way or another, most of these families’ vaccines hesitancy depended on many perceptions and attitudes towards vaccines. They were:
- vaccines safety.
- the necessity of vaccines.
- a distrust with the Government.
- freedom of choice to choose their vaccines.
This presents an urgent need to improve on messaging and create a holistic campaign that acknowledges the risks and highlights the benefits of vaccines.
Suggestions for solving the problems
Noticeably, the current global rise in Delta Variant among unvaccinated populations reminds us about the high risk of viral transmission within these isolated and vulnerable groups. Delta Variant is one of the several COVID-19 variants circulating within our communities. Moreover, the variant constantly mutates, which interferes with the decisions based on the consent for an individual to undertake various vaccines. Thus, the changing of the virus requires ongoing reinforcement of the public health messaging to the communities to understand the nature of the Delta Variant.
On the other hand, vaccines’ adverse effects, such as AstraZeneca and constant changes in risk communications, have tremendously impacted old and young people’s decision-making.
We spoke with one of the young people who said that “he cannot disclose his decision whether to take the vaccine”. “He further said that he needs “more information to decide to take vaccine”. So, we believe that one way to inform young people in those public housing is to utilise healthcare workers or community leaders to engage with young people directly and improve COVID-19 messaging. The strategy would help young people understand vaccines availability, including Pfizer and others such as Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
Despite the State and Federal governments providing more public health campaigns and advocacy for the communities to accept vaccines uptake, the governments should also consider hastening means to reach out to hard to reach, isolated, and vulnerable populations to access the vaccines. This process could be done better by implementing mobile vaccines units, engaging with families, and improving communications strategies or effect mandatory vaccination for this cohort if everyone else is to be safe from looming threats of wild Delta Variant.