COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine

(Question Time, 8 June 2021, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

My question is directed to the Minister for Health and Medical Research. How is the New South Wales Government ensuring that vulnerable communities, including people who are homeless, have access to COVID-19 vaccinations?

Mr BRAD HAZZARD (WakehurstMinister for Health and Medical Research) (15:11): I thank the member for Sydney for his question. I know, having worked with him in a number of different areas, that he is genuine about his concerns—as I am sure all members in this place are in regard to vulnerable members of the community, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and so on. A lot of work has obviously been done in regard to vaccination more broadly. I think last week NSW Health managed to get up to about 80,000 vaccinations. The majority of vaccinations are being done and will hopefully continue to be done by GPs with patients they understand and know. I stress to the community more broadly that if you are over 50 and have a GP who has access to some of the AstraZeneca vaccine, you should try and make your appointment with the GP. People in the 40 to 49 age bracket are currently eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. It has temperature restrictions so it must be delivered through NSW Health facilities at the present time.

Obviously the challenges for people who are homeless, vulnerable or sex workers are a little different. In essence, we have to look at ways to reach out to them quite often to get the vaccine to them. There cannot be the same expectation that they will necessarily come to NSW Health or, indeed, GPs, because many people in those situations do not have GPs. Some do but some do not. I think it is fair to say that some lessons were learnt by me personally when I was the housing Minister and I went out onto the streets all over Sydney and New South Wales. I remember getting Housing NSW to do outreach, which it had not done in the past, which was quite interesting. It expected homeless people to come to it.

Mr Ryan Park: Good program.

Mr BRAD HAZZARD: Yes, I thank the member for that comment. I think outreach is crucial and that is certainly the message I have given to Housing NSW. Having said that, some very good services are already underway. I remember there was an incredible service through St Vincent's Hospital, which had a nurse who was remarkable. They have a lot of nurses and doctors who are remarkable but one is Erin Longbottom. It is five or six years since I was doing that job but I remember she was an ambassador for everything that can be done for people who are homeless. The St Vincent's Hospital Homeless Health Service is continuing that task and offering vaccinations to homeless people. The South Eastern Sydney Local Health District is doing something similar and reaching out to homeless people throughout the district. A new centre has been opened at Woolloomooloo, Ozanam Learning Centre.

Before I address the regions I will address western Sydney. Some services are being offered there to mental health patients through the Western Sydney Local Health District at Cumberland and Auburn hospitals, as well as methadone clinic patients generally who come into some association with Blacktown Hospital. Refugees are obviously a very vulnerable population and we have been doing outreach programs through an association with Settlement Services International. Again, I remember working with them. It is effectively a federally funded body, but many of the people who work in Settlement Services International are themselves refugees who have moved on to become Australian residents and citizens. They really do understand how to reach out to the various subset communities. In western Sydney they are working with Jeffery House to provide vaccines through their sexual health clinic.

Generally the regions are a little more challenging because obviously it is up to each individual local health district. The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, for example—which I visited with a number of my colleagues the week before last to make the very important announcement of the new hospital in Shellharbour—is working with the Shoalhaven Homeless Hub to provide outreach pop-up clinics for those sleeping rough. In essence, a lot is being done but a lot more can be done. I have found that members on both sides and Independent members have often come to me with ideas on how to reach out. I thank members of the Opposition, Independent representatives and other Liberals and Nationals who have come to me with local suggestions for local areas. If members have any other suggestions, they should come and see me and I will make sure that Health acknowledges and works with them on those initiatives.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!