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Council picks up vaccination slack

By Brendan Rees

People who get a COVID-19 jab will be rewarded with “irresistible offers” as part of a new City of Melbourne campaign.

Councillors voted at the June 15 Future Melbourne Committee meeting to offer a range of perks and incentives to encourage not just Melburnians but all Victorians to get vaccinated as soon as they were eligible.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the measure was aimed at stamping out further lockdowns and to “bring back the buzz” to the city.

“We want Victoria to be the most vaccinated state so that we can move beyond lockdown and restrictions and build confidence for local businesses, residents and tourists, and so that we can open and stay open,” she said.

Rewards could include a premium package offers in retail, hospitality, and entertainment.

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration recently approved the provision of incentives and rewards for people who have been fully vaccinated.

“We don’t want to have a lockdown number five to keep us motivated around vaccination. We want more ‘Vac-torians’ as we are called,” Ms Capp said.

“A vaccinated Victoria is vital for our city to thrive and it’s the key to containing the pandemic so we can fully enjoy the amazing experiences our city has to offer.”

The incentive campaign comes after the federal and state governments have come under pressure for Victoria’s slow vaccination rollout.

During the state’s fourth lockdown, Victorian acting Premier James Merlino vented his frustration saying “we might be facing a very different set of circumstances” had more people been vaccinated.

By July, around 2 million doses had been administered across the state, general practice, and Commonwealth programs in Victoria.

On June 28, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said more than seven million Australians, or 28.6 per cent of the population, had had at least one dose of a vaccine including 68 per cent of people aged over 70.

Forty-four per cent of people aged over 50 have received at least one dose of vaccine.

All Australians aged over 40 are now eligible for vaccination, with Victoria’s online booking system launching on June 17.

“We want to encourage as many Australians as possible, but in particular to say to the older Australians we would very much like you to come forward as early as possible,” Mr Hunt said.

Speaking at the council meeting, Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece pointed to the success of vaccination incentives overseas, particularly in the US. He said the state of Ohio was offering a $1 million prize for a “lucky person” while other states had offered free university tuition scholarships.

Australian companies such as Qantas have begun their incentive programs including rolling out frequent flyer points rewards or flight vouchers to help expand vaccination rates.

To further increase vaccination uptake, the City of Melbourne will boost its communications campaign in multiple languages to reach out to multicultural communities.

According to the latest Essential poll, 32 per cent of Victorians have reported vaccine hesitancy with a further 12 per cent stating that they would choose against getting the vaccine.

On June 20, the state government announced it would develop and make Australia’s first local mRNA COVID-19 vaccine that will be ready for clinical trials by the end of the year.

The state will invest $5 million to support Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences to manufacture doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for trials, which are due to start soon.

Health Minister Martin Foley said, “our message to Victorians today is get vaccinated if you are eligible to do so – for the sake of yourself, your family, your friends and your community”.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid welcomed the Federal Government’s recent announcement of extra funding that allows GPs to spend more time with patients.

Dr Khorshid said this would ensure patients were aware of all the benefits of a COVID-19 vaccination, and boost confidence in the vaccine.

“It is a big step in allowing doctors to take the time to sit down and discuss fully with their patients, some of whom are nervous, the benefits and incredibly low risks associated with vaccination,” he said.

Eddie Micallef, chairman of the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV), said the vaccination rollout had been “very disappointing” with a lack of an “appropriate, thought-out, and effective” campaign.

Mr Micallef said there had been “inconsistent messages” and called for translated material “to be more informal and tailored to specific communities”.

“The data that’s been collected by federal and state governments is not uniformed so we don’t know which areas are missing out. If we knew that we could target specific areas,” he said.

“One of the things that were encouraged was community leaders to do their own Facebook presentation and send it around to their communities.”

In late June following a meeting with National Cabinet, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that any Australian under the age of 40 could now approach their GP and ask for the AstraZeneca vaccine. •

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