‘Not rocket science’: The strategy behind this regional town’s high vax rate

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Like many health professionals during the pandemic, Goondiwindi pharmacist Lucy Walker has heard it all when it comes to myths and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

“There’s always one or two people that will come into the pharmacy and ask me questions that I think, ‘Jeepers, where did they get that belief from?’,” Ms Walker said.

But unlike other regions in Queensland, misinformation has had little effect on vaccination rates in the town of 6,000 people.

Goondiwindi on the Queensland-New South Wales border has the highest vaccination rate per capita in the state, with 79.8 per cent of people aged 15 years and above in the region fully vaccinated, while 89.6 per cent have had their first dose.

It compares to 60.4 per cent and 74.8 per cent of eligible Queenslanders respectively.

The man in charge of Queensland’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout, acting Deputy Police Commissioner Shane Chelepy, this week warned several regional areas were still “lagging behind” and were set to miss targets set by the state government.

A woman with brown hair wearing a white uniformA woman with brown hair wearing a white uniform
Goondiwindi pharmacist Lucy Walker says the community’s trust in health professionals has helped with the town’s high vaccination rate.(Supplied: Lucy Walker)

Embracing community spirit

Local butcher Tony Higgins was vaccinated at the town’s first clinic at the Goondiwindi Hospital in June.

“We’ve got a lot of visitors coming into our stores and a lot of travellers,” he said.

“I just thought it’s very important that I get myself and all my staff vaccinated to be on the extra-safe side.”

A man wearing an apron stands in front of a plastic cowA man wearing an apron stands in front of a plastic cow
Tony Higgins says there’s been a lot of talk about the COVID-19 vaccine in town.(Supplied: Tony Higgins)

Mr Higgins thinks the town’s “community spirit”, as well as its proximity to the New South Wales border, explains its success.

“I think a lot of people do communicate about it and ask different people if they are vaccinated, or if they’re not, they ask the reasons why.”

‘This isn’t rocket science’

Local leaders are confident residents will continue to roll up their sleeves.

The town is tipped to have more than 90 per cent of its residents vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine sometime this week.

Goondiwindi Mayor Lawrence Springborg said the results were due to months of work by local leaders and health professionals promoting the benefits of vaccination.

Goondiwindi Mayor Lawrence SpringborgGoondiwindi Mayor Lawrence Springborg
Lawrence Springborg says the council tried to promote discussions about the vaccine.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

“We’ve been on the front foot in regard to this all the way along. We’ve encouraged an extraordinary amount of confidence in our community.”

Setting an example

Health officials have also praised residents for their efforts and said the support from the community had been appreciated by staff on the ground.

Lucy Walker said she felt relieved now, due to the region’s high vaccination rate, compared to when the pandemic started.

“I think I was more scared when COVID-19 first came to town, and there wasn’t a vaccine available,” she said.

Ms Walker said she believed the tight-knit nature of the community would continue to combat fear and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’ve got a strong social structure and so people get their advice from the people they trust, rather than going to social media to get their health advice.”

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