Van brings jab to vulnerable Melburnians

·2-min read

Four days a week a van travels to a different part of Melbourne offering COVID-19 vaccines to Victorians experiencing homelessness, mental illness and drug or alcohol issues.

The van removes barriers to the vaccine for those in vulnerable situations, by visiting them wherever they are.

On Friday, Jamie got his first Pfizer jab at Salvation Army's crisis accommodation service in Flagstaff, after his case manager called and told him about the van's arrival.

Once a rough sleeper, he recently completed a housing program and has been living in a transitional home.

"I was pretty keen to get it," he told AAP.

"It was quick and easy, I got the jab, answered some questions, and now I'm ready for my second one."

Jamie is one of more than 100 people that will be vaccinated by the van this week as it visits crisis accommodation, rooming houses, drop in services and car parks across the city.

A joint initiative by St Vincent's Hospital, the Salvation Army and the Burnet Institute, with two nurses and a drug and alcohol harm minimisation worker on board, the van has vaccinated 500 vulnerable Melburnians over the past seven weeks.

The homeless community - including rough sleepers, couch surfers and those in temporary accommodation - are adversely impacted by the threat of coronavirus.

Earlier this year, a Victorian parliamentary inquiry found the pandemic has "compounded the vulnerabilities and difficulties people at risk of, or experiencing homelessness, face".

The van project's lead Andrew Chan says that community suffers from more chronic and acute health conditions than others, and on top of that live in unstable housing with limited access to food and medicine.

He says having a mobile service that can travel to wherever there is need should be an "essential" part of Victoria's vaccination rollout.

"It's quite a mobile population, a lot of people are sleeping rough or couch surfing, so getting vaccinated against COVID is very important for that individual and protecting them, but also protecting others around them and the community," he told AAP.

Where the van travels to each day is "very much about targeting" those on the fence about getting the jab.

"Having the van go to these sites where they normally go to anyway, in regards to getting their resources or finding their next meal, means we can go out to them," Mr Chan said.

"For those that are sitting on the fence, the van is there and nurses can have those conversations around the benefits of the vaccine, the side effects, and any concerns.

"Then, the clients can make their informed decision around whether to have the vaccine or not."

Last week, the City of Melbourne and CoHealth also opened a vaccine hub at Melbourne's town hall for people experiencing homelessness, asylum seekers, refugees and international students.

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