Canberrans have really smashed it when it comes to getting vaccinated. We’ve all rolled up our sleeves and got double jabbed because we know it’s the best way to protect our community and to get our lives back to some kind of normal.
And whilst the Chief Minister has been gloating about our nation-leading vaccination rates, it masks a sobering reality that we are seeing happening right here, in our nation’s capital.
The Federal Government’s vaccination data shows that Canberra East in my electorate of Kurrajong – that includes Oaks Estate, Pialligo, Symonston and Majura – has some of the lowest vaccination rates in Australia.
Our city is (rightly) proud of our 99+ per cent first dose and 83 per cent double dose vaccination rate, but it’s very concerning that the most isolated suburbs in the ACT have only received 56.6 per cent first dose and 43.1 per cent double dose vaccinations (as at 17 October 2021).
Whilst the ACT’s vaccination rates are increasing by 1 per cent a day, East Canberra’s vaccination rates only increased by 7 per cent in a month.
With a population of approximately 1,700 it might seem like small fry, but with the highest proportion of public houses in the ACT, it means that some of our most vulnerable Canberrans are being left behind – woefully behind.
We know that residents in Oaks Estate, Pialligo and Symonston do not have public transport access, so it’s nearly impossible for the 12 per cent of residents who don’t have a car to get to a vaccination clinic.
I have written twice to the Chief Minister and the Minister for Health (who are – as I am – local members for East Canberra) urging them to target these areas and ensure that all Canberrans have access to COVID-19 vaccinations.
I questioned the Chief Minister about these concerning statistics in a public hearing of the Select Committee on the COVID-19 2021 Pandemic Response. At that time, I welcomed his undertaking to prioritise vaccinations in these suburbs.
Community service provider Vinnie’s organised a community outreach program to vaccinate residents in Oaks Estate; however, we have not seen the vaccination rates in East Canberra even begin to catch up.
The government must make sure that this community is not left behind. They must explore all options to make sure that all Canberrans have access and the means to get vaccinated, including in-reach programs that take COVID vaccines into these suburbs and targeted awareness campaigns to inform, educate and encourage vaccinations.
As restrictions begin to ease in both the ACT and NSW, we will see the pandemic of the unvaccinated and vulnerable. East Canberra lies right on the border, and with many of those residents accessing essential services in Queanbeyan, it is vital that these communities have access to vaccinations.
We have every reason to be proud of our vaccination rates – we are set to become the most vaccinated city in the world as a result of the willingness of Canberrans to get the jab. But when this Labor-Greens Government spruiks “we’re all in this together”, they must walk the walk and do everything in their power to ensure some of our most vulnerable Canberrans are not left out in the cold.
Elizabeth Lee MLA is a Member for Kurrajong and the Liberals leader in the Legislative Assembly.