Why does the City of Melbourne have the state’s lowest vaccination rate?

By David Schout

Federal figures indicated that, in mid-September, the City of Melbourne had the lowest vaccination levels in Victoria. A deeper dive into the figures, however, suggests there could be an explanation for this. 

By mid-September, the City of Melbourne had the worst rate of COVID-19 vaccination in the state.

As one of just two local government areas with less than 30 per cent of its population double-dosed (alongside the City of Hume), the area was lagging. 

Its fully-immunised figure of just 28.4 per cent was also well below the bordering council areas of Stonnington (43.9 per cent), Port Phillip (41.6 per cent) and Yarra (39.7 per cent). 

Why had locals been slow getting jabs into their arms? Were they holding up the rest of the state?

Well, it appears the answer might not be so simple.

To start with, both the City of Melbourne and state government suspect the percentage of vaccinated people in the area could, in fact, be higher than reported.

And that’s because of the way data has been compiled. 

Local populations in vaccination data is based on 2019 figures. Crucially, it fails to consider the exodus of overseas residents in Melbourne, in particular international students.

Since the pandemic hit in early 2020, a sizeable percentage of international students, who made up a large chunk of the local population, are believed to have departed from Melbourne.

Estimates vary, but some believe it could be as much, or even more, than half of all students.

However, the federal figures have not reflected that.

And that means that those who returned home up to 18 months ago are still being counted in population figures.

They are, according to the data, contributing to the “unvaccinated” percentage — except they’re not in the country. 

Questions of data accuracy aside, the council also believes its low percentage of fully-immunised residents is somewhat unfairly skewed given the area’s demographics. 

With a median age of 29, the municipality has one of the youngest age profiles in Victoria. 

Many residents only became eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination recently.

As such, the lower levels of vaccination — rather than laziness or vaccine hesitancy — might be because many have had to wait for eligibility. 

“The social and demographic makeup of our city is like no other,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said in response to queries from CBD News

“Almost three-quarters of our residential population is below the age of 40, most of who would have been ineligible for COVID-19 vaccinations until mid-June – with Pfizer only becoming available to this age group in August.” 

This was confirmed by Nicole Bartholomeusz, the chief executive of Cohealth, a community health service.

“The City of Melbourne has a much younger population compared to other municipalities, with many of them only becoming eligible for the vaccination in June. It’s likely this is a contributing factor to the lower vaccination rates,” she said.

The good news is, since eligibility has opened up, vaccination rates are improving. 

A Department of Health spokesperson said that immunisation rates in the City of Melbourne had “risen rapidly since people aged 16 and over became eligible for Pfizer”.

Cr Capp said the race was on.

“We’re catching up quickly now that young people can get a jab. It’s inspiring to see their rush to get vaccinated.”

She said no one could question the council’s push for everyone to get the jab. 

“We want to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible – and as a municipality, we’re doing everything we can – more than most – to get people vaccinated.”

Finally, the Department of Health also noted that the City of Melbourne was home to many diverse communities, including those with language barriers or experiencing homelessness.

This too could also have contributed to lower-than-average vaccination rates, however, this issue was now being addressed.

“Melbourne is home to many young and diverse communities – including some of our most vulnerable. We’re doing everything we can to boost vaccine supplies, get doses to where they’re needed and give people the support they need.”

Cohealth has partnered with the City of Melbourne to deliver vaccinations at Melbourne Town Hall.

Ms Bartholomeusz said the key goal of this facility was to ensure no one slipped between the cracks. 

“It’s critical that vulnerable people aren’t left behind,” she said.

“We’re working hard to close the vaccination gap, so that no-one misses out on vaccination due to low English literacy, homelessness or no Medicare card.”

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