Holy Family Parish, Mount Druitt, is known for having a variety of services utilising its site, such as the Ignite Food Store, CatholicCare Aboriginal Catholic Services and a Western Sydney University podiatry clinic.
The parish can now add one more service to their list – vaccination clinic.
Over the last two months, the parish’s church has been turned into a vaccination clinic as the Western Sydney Local Health District work to vaccinate the local community which includes one of the largest Indigenous populations in Australia.
During the peak of the recent Delta outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mt Druitt area was one of the areas with high rates of infection, and when the vaccine rollout commenced, had low rates of vaccination.
“The Department of Health wanted to target the Mt Druitt area to boost vaccinations because the Indigenous community were under representative in vaccination numbers,” parish priest Fr Gregory Jacobs SJ told Catholic Outlook.
“We had a contact within Western Sydney Health and told them that we can offer our church as a vaccination site and they were very happy about it.”
The parish, along with Catholic and non-Catholic agencies in the local area, tapped into their networks to encourage the Indigenous community, vulnerable members of the community and those working on the frontlines to get vaccinated.
NSW Health designated 700 vaccinations to the parish hub throughout September, with around 100 bookings a day in the one to two days a week the clinic was running. The clinic continues to run in October as the agencies reach the end of their community contact lists.
“We saw it as a way of reaching out to the wider community, and a continuation of the ecumenical outreach to the whole area,” Fr Gregory explained.
“Our Emerton and Willmot sites are well known in the community as safe places to engage with organisations that can help people.
“We found that by setting up vaccination sites in the community, people were more comfortable engaging in the initiative because it was in their local area.”
At the beginning of the local clinics, Fr Gregory said that there was anxiety amongst the community surrounding the safety of the vaccines and some cultural groups were on the fence about the vaccine.
“Having the vaccination clinic connected to the church gave people a place to have conversations about the vaccine.
“Even if it didn’t change their perceptions, patients were able to hear the broader context of the vaccination rollout and they were able to feel safe to ask the medical staff on-site questions.
“Patients were then able to make an informed choice, knowing that the vaccine is safe and it broke down some of their anxiety around the situation.”
Fr Gregory also noted that when the Indigenous elders of the community started getting vaccinated, it opened doors and encouraged the rest of the community to get vaccinated themselves. “If it’s safe for the elders, then it must be safe for me,” he described.
As NSW passes its milestone of 70% of the eligible population being double vaccinated, Fr Gregory is counting down the days when he can reopen the parish*. The Diocese of Parramatta has said that parishes can begin conducting public Masses once the state reaches the 80% double vaccination target.
“I am itching to get back to engaging and reconnecting with the parish community after so much time apart,” he said.
“During last year’s lockdown, we were fortunate that none of our parish community were infected. Now, this year, many of our families have been affected either by being sick themselves, or having family that are sick.
“This has had a direct effect on the parish as you know people who are affected by it – it hits close to home.
“We’ve seen a true sense of community as we have pulled together in support of those in our parish who are sick.
“We’re not out of it yet, but I hope that we are able to share and grow together as a parish through this experience, and that we are a better community having gone through it together.”
*At the time of writing, NSW had not yet reached 80% vaccination levels.