CCA Supports National COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign

Community Colleges Australia (CCA) has announced its support for a national COVID-19 vaccination campaign. The CCA Board of Directors has resolved to support the efforts of Chief Medical Officers of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, and encourage its members assist with dissemination of government health messages on the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign, in order to ensure the health of their students, staff and communities.

The resolution (download here) notes:

  • All Australian governments – Commonwealth, state and territory – strongly support the national COVID-19 vaccination roll-out, with the advice of their respective Chief Medical Officers.
  • Australian COVID-19 vaccination rates currently rank very low on world-wide comparisons.
  • Vaccination is one of Australia’s top national priorities, to ensure the health and future prosperity of the nation, although a national awareness campaign is still in early stages.
  • The overwhelming majority of the Australian population remains highly vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • Historically, vulnerable and disadvantaged groups – excepting Indigenous Australians, who are reached by Aboriginal Medical Services – are frequently among the least-vaccinated Australians, due to lack of access, information and opportunity.
  • There have been continued COVID-19 “leaks” from quarantined travellers, which have caused widespread economic and social disruption – including to post-secondary education – such as occurred again in June in both Melbourne and Sydney.
  • Online and distance learning from home, while embraced by many post-secondary institutions and learners, is not an alternative for most of the basic education, training and other community support services provided by Australian adult and community education (ACE) organisations.
  • Many vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians do not have a regular relationship with a general practitioner (GP); they are therefore less likely to participate in a COVID-19 vaccination roll-out which is led by GPs.
  • The Australian vocational education and training (VET) sector each year enrols more than 4 million Australians between the ages of 15 to 64, triple the number of university students, making it the largest educational sector in Australia.
  • The VET sector proportionately reaches more disadvantaged Australians than other education sectors.
  • Within the Australian VET sector, ACE providers proportionately reach even more vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians than other types of providers, which includes people with a disability, from non-English speaking backgrounds, from lower socio-economic groups, who are Indigenous, who are older (and therefore more vulnerable to COVID-19), and who live in regional and rural areas – where ACE providers play a special role.
  • ACE providers have strong local and regional bases and networks in their communities and regions, and they conduct continued outreach to disadvantaged groups as well as partner with other local service organisations.

Comment by Dr Don Perlgut, CCA CEO

Australia’s vulnerability to COVID-19 has been underscored by the current Sydney and recent Melbourne lockdowns, and associated social, economic, cultural – and educational – disruption. Experts agree that a more highly vaccinated population means less restrictive future lockdowns.

This is Australia’s greatest challenge during the next 12 months, on which our continued economic recovery also depends. Fortunately, Australia has a strong bi-partisan and all government (Commonwealth-state-territory) agreement about the importance, combined with a close to universal acceptance of the need for vaccination. There may be critiques of and disagreements about roll-out strategy, but there is no issue about its importance. Read the ABC timeline and the BBC analysis of what has happened so far.

Rapid vaccination, including confidence in Australia’s vaccination program among vulnerable and disadvantaged groups is very much in the interest of CCA members and ACE providers.

High vaccination rates are even more important now to achieve “herd immunity”, as Professor David J Hunter writes: “Herd immunity will be harder to achieve than we first thought. The early estimates were that as few as 70 per cent of people needed to be immune, but as some countries have surpassed that percentage through natural infection and vaccination, the virus is still spreading. The new delta variant appears to be about twice as infectious as the original Wuhan strain, so the proportion of people needed to attain herd immunity needs to be higher, perhaps over 90 per cent. It would only take 10 per cent of Australians to refuse vaccination, and there would be enough people still at risk for the virus to circulate.”

The Coming Public Awareness Campaign – Our Role

A major public awareness campaign about COVID-19 vaccination is in early stages. I hope it will go well beyond standard media channels and engage in genuine outreach through Australia’s large and vital community sector, especially to reach Australia’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. This is where Australia’s adult and community education (ACE) sector comes in: the national network of thousands of ACE providers, embedded in their communities – and reaching many hundreds of thousands of students – is an ideal platform from which to assist vaccination health messages.

Neighbourhood Houses Victoria has already commenced an information campaign on COVID-19 vaccination, in conjunction with the Victorian Department of Health. CCA has had resources for educational institutions on its website for more than a year. As noted in the CCA resolution, the VET sector has a key role to play in community awareness, because of our core populations.

“We are sitting ducks, with a largely unvaccinated or partially vaccinated population,” wrote Professor Fiona MacIntyre this week. She had warned in early January that Australian could not afford to delay the vaccine rollout. In a statement that foreshadowed the current Sydney lockdown, she said, “If we have an introduction, through a breach in hotel quarantine, of one of these highly transmissible variants, and it sets off an outbreak, that outbreak will be much more difficult to control. If it takes off, we’ll have a much harder achieving herd immunity, which is another argument for considering expediting vaccination.”

Let’s bring the full resources of Australia’s ACE sector to bear on this important national project, as it gains force in coming months.

Don Perlgut, PhD, CEO, Community Colleges Australia

 

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