Our Story (so far)
In early 2021, we became aware that Inclusive Health, a Brisbane homeless health service located in West End, was unable to afford to purchase flu vaccines for roughly 150 of their patients who were not eligible to receive a free flu vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) (which includes those with medical risk factors, pregnant women, first nations people, and those over 65).
We decided to do something about this, and raised enough money through community fundraising to support them to purchase 150 flu vaccines, as well as supporting Brisbane Youth Service (which supports young homeless populations) to purchase 60 flu vaccines for their patients.
We believed that cost should not be a barrier to preventative healthcare such as flu vaccines.
As the COVID-19 vaccination rollout began, we realised that people experiencing homelessness were unlikely to want to, or even be able to, visit a vaccine hub to receive their COVID-19 vaccines, and so set up a number of pop-up outreach COVID vaccination clinics outside of traditional medical settings. These began in Brisbane, but we have since held outreach clinics for both COVID-19 and influenza vaccines across Queensland, working with community organisations such as Orange Sky, as well as PHNs.
We launched the 'We Give A RAT' program in partnership with Chemist Warehouse, enabling Queensland charities to access free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to protect their volunteers and the friends they support.
Of note, this year we also partnered with the Queensland Government in 2020 to allow us and nine other homeless health charities to access state-funded influenza vaccines.
More than Vaccines
In May 2022, a patient who had previously been vaccinated at our clinic came up to us with an infected wound, asking whether we could do anything to help it heal. We had one immunisation nurse at this clinic and two medical students, and only vaccine dots for bandages. Unfortunately all we could tell this patient is that she should present to the Emergency Department to get it checked out.
This interaction weighed on our team – here was a lady who needed our help, and we weren’t up to the task. From this interaction, the inspiration for our regular clinics was borne.
We’ve just launched our first weekly GP-supervised, medical student run comprehensive health clinic in Brisbane City, with one in Eastern Brisbane and one in Toowoomba planned to commence in the coming months. We are also expanding our services in other ways to help prevent illness or injury in more people: a pharmacy pilot to remove barriers to medication access and a mental health pilot to address underlying issues that contribute and result from disadvantage.
We are also in the early stages of working with the Australian Medical Students Association and Street Side Medics (based in Sydney), to improve teaching around health barriers for people experiencing homelessness in medical schools throughout Australia.