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Getting the #JabDone with Wuchopperen

2 Dec 2021

Far North Queensland’s Wuchopperen Health Service discusses its unique engagement-focused approach to the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which includes community events, pop-up clinics and creating culturally safe spaces for conversations about the jab.

Dania Ahwang and Rachael Ham

Wuchop­peren Health Ser­vice is an Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander Com­mu­ni­ty Con­trolled Health Organ­i­sa­tion that has been deliv­er­ing cul­tur­al­ly appro­pri­ate, com­pre­hen­sive pri­ma­ry health care to Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander peo­ple in the Cairns region of Far North Queens­land since 1981

CEO Dania Ahwang says it has tak­en ded­i­ca­tion, inno­va­tion, and a great team to deliv­er the COVID-19 vac­cine roll-out to their clients, but admits there’s still a lot of hard work to be done.

Thanks to closed state and inter­na­tion­al bor­ders we have been pro­tect­ed against COVID-19, but the pan­dem­ic has and con­tin­ues to chal­lenge us all,” Dania told CRANAplus in late Octo­ber, as the count­down to open the Queens­land bor­ders to the rest of Aus­tralia in mid-Decem­ber commences.

We know that vac­cines for COVID-19 are the best first line of defence to pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ty today and into the future, and not just every­one who gets the jab but every­one who is con­nect­ed to that per­son, that fam­i­ly and their imme­di­ate and wider com­mu­ni­ty,” she says.

We acknowl­edge and thank the thou­sands of our clients who have already come for­ward and had the vaccine.

The Lyall fam­i­ly had their jab together

We also respect that it is every com­mu­ni­ty member’s right to have or to not have the vac­cine – but as an organ­i­sa­tion whose respon­si­bil­i­ty it is to improve the qual­i­ty of life for Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander Peo­ples, we won’t stop until we have had an informed dis­cus­sion with every­one in our com­mu­ni­ty about the risk of COVID-19 and the ben­e­fits of the vac­cine, and we are con­fi­dent that they under­stand how best to pro­tect them­selves and their fam­i­ly from this virus.”

Sup­plies may have restrict­ed ear­ly vac­ci­na­tion num­bers across Aus­tralia, but mis­in­for­ma­tion is also influ­enc­ing vac­cine uptake in Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander com­mu­ni­ties, says Rachael Ham, Deputy CEO and facil­i­ta­tor of Wuchopperen’s COVID-19 vac­cine roll-out.

We have had an estab­lished vac­cine clin­ic for months now, at our Manoo­ra site, and seen a steady stream of peo­ple through the doors,” she says. But in Octo­ber num­bers slowed and we believe hes­i­tan­cy, dri­ven by the lack of cor­rect infor­ma­tion, is to blame.

Gov­ern­ment cam­paigns have raised aware­ness about the avail­abil­i­ty of the vac­cine and cre­at­ed dis­cus­sion, but not always the right or cor­rect con­ver­sa­tion; and we need to turn that con­ver­sa­tion around.

Jab done! Wuchop­peren Health Ser­vice Board Mem­ber, Semara Jose

So what we’ve been doing, and we’ve been learn­ing and inno­vat­ing as we go, is in addi­tion to our Mon­day to Fri­day vac­cine clin­ics, we’ve cre­at­ed addi­tion­al safe and cul­tur­al­ly appro­pri­ate spaces and oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­mu­ni­ty to come for­ward and get that right advice, through a con­ver­sa­tion they under­stand by a per­son they know and trust, and in an envi­ron­ment that is famil­iar and welcoming.”

Since late August, every three weeks, either on a Sat­ur­day or week­day evening Wuchop­peren has held vac­cine events in the style of a com­mu­ni­ty cel­e­bra­tion, fea­tur­ing live music, a bar­be­cue or tra­di­tion­al din­ner, kids’ activ­i­ties and entry to a lucky door prize for every­one that gets the #jab­done, a hash­tag which has been cen­tral to the service’s unique engage­ment-focused approach.

While our clients now live in the Cairns area, their fam­i­lies orig­i­nate from all over Cape York, the Tor­res Strait and north Queens­land and we all have one thing in com­mon – we love to get togeth­er. We love our music, our food and a good yarn with fam­i­ly,” Rachael says.

We have seen com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers who got their jab at our first event come back for the sec­ond and third [event], bring­ing extend­ed fam­i­ly mem­bers and encour­ag­ing them to get the vaccine.”

Jab done cupcakes

This is how we as an organ­i­sa­tion and a com­mu­ni­ty work. We talk to each oth­er, we trust each oth­er. And with the major­i­ty of Wuchop­peren staff iden­ti­fy­ing as Abo­rig­i­nal and/​or Tor­res Strait Islander peo­ple, we’re almost all con­nect­ed in some way, and we love these events too. We’ve got dead­ly staff here.”

With more vac­cine events planned, Wuchop­peren knows that there will always be the hard-to-reach peo­ple’ who won’t walk through the clin­ic gates, but they may drop into a park on the cor­ner of their street. So pop-up clin­ics’ in com­mu­ni­ty spaces, sports fields, parks and com­mu­ni­ty hubs have been added to the health service’s jab­bing tool kit.

These pop-up clin­ics are about get­ting clos­er to the front door of our com­mu­ni­ty and answer­ing their ques­tions in a safe space and in a trust­ed way,” Rachael says.

Lynn Yeat­man jab­bing Kar­lena Hobson

On our sec­ond day out in a local park, we had a lady who hap­pened to be dri­ving past and saw our COVID VAC­CINE HERE’ sign. She stopped for a chat, she said she was a scep­tic, she want­ed more infor­ma­tion and with­in about 10 mins she had her first dose. I’ll admit that felt so good.”

And while Rachael and the team are hav­ing wins, Dania admits that they’re also realists.

We know that with every day we are get­ting clos­er to the open­ing of the Queens­land bor­ders and that will mean COVID in our com­mu­ni­ty, which will mean our non-vac­ci­nat­ed, par­tic­u­lar­ly our already sick and vul­ner­a­ble clients, get­ting very sick, being hos­pi­talised or pos­si­bly worse,” Dania says.

Research tells us that if you are ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed you have less than 10 per cent chance of worst-case sce­nario if infect­ed with the virus. That’s why we have got to find ways to encour­age our com­mu­ni­ty to get the jab. We’re not giv­ing up. We will con­tin­ue to inno­vate and adapt, work hard and walk the streets if we have to, to make sure we do every­thing we can to pro­tect our mob.”

Want to share your vac­ci­na­tion suc­cess sto­ry in the CRANAplus mag­a­zine? Con­tact us.