Connecting culturally for COVID-safe schools
26 Oct 2021
Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District’s (NBMLHD) Multicultural Health team have been working in a successful collaboration with local schools and the Head of Paediatrics at Nepean Hospital to educate local diverse-language communities about COVID-19.
Timed to support the rollout of vaccines for the 12-15 age group, a multicultural and multi-faith panel of health professionals, all from the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District, delivered a series of virtual education and Q&A sessions promoting facts and dispelling myths about COVID-19 and vaccination.
These education sessions were broadcast by a targeted group of local high schools with large student populations from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, including from the Indian-subcontinent, Africa and the Pasifika region.
“Low health literacy is a significant issue in these communities as they struggle to differentiate between the right information and health advice versus myths and misinformation”, says Dr Habib Bhurawala, Head of Paediatric Services at Nepean Hospital.
“Having health professionals from the same community and the same faith as some of the groups helped to alleviate their concerns”, Dr Bhurawala said.
Medhia Survery from NBMLHD’s Multicultural Health Service says that when the recent COVID crisis hit, many Health workers were immediately alert to the disparity of its effect on the CALD community in Western Sydney.
“We needed a multi layered approach to this problem”, says Ms Survery, “and local high schools with large CALD populations helped provide us with a direct, grassroots link to parents, students and teachers”.
The resulting model for virtual delivery was developed with the assistance of staff from Western Sydney Local Health District and the Multicultural Health Communications Service.
“General data has suggested that CALD communities have had lower rates of vaccinations, so we took a proactive approach”, says Dr Habib Bhurawala. “We went ahead with the sessions as soon as it was announced that children could be vaccinated”.
“Through the sessions we were able to debunk large amount of misinformation floating around social media pertaining to COVID-19 vaccines, and also provide trusted scientific advice from local experts who share the same cultural and faith backgrounds as our communities”, says Medhia Survery.
Key messages included vaccine safety and efficacy, benefits and risks of vaccination, COVID-Safe behaviours in the school setting and where to find reliable information in multiple languages.
Key myths debunked include those relating to the long-term safety of vaccines in children, vaccine ingredients and the religious permissibility of vaccination.
“We have very good data, evidence and experience, especially from the USA and Europe, that vaccination in adolescents is an effective strategy”, says Dr Habib Bhurawala. “Vaccination in children over the age of 12 years has significant benefits compared to risk, and we can minimise disruption to schools through vaccination”.
“Vaccination for older children, as well as for adults, also helps to successfully cocoon those younger children under the age of 12 years who are not vaccinated”.
Since sharing the success of these education sessions, similar initiatives have been taken up within other Local Health Districts.
Additional virtual information sessions have also been provided for community and faith leaders and other groups outside of schools. In addition, more local schools are set to offer the sessions as students return to face-to-face learning.
For multilingual resources on COVID-19 and vaccination visit www.health.gov.au/covid19-vaccines-languages.
Find detailed and reliable information and COVID-19 and children, including vaccination, here.