Volume 20, Issue 3
As the Morrison Government has scrambled to fix its humiliating lethargy in securing a steady supply of vaccines, jab availability is rising steadily across every state. Since Delta variant outbreaks have shut down the East Coast, all adults have been granted access to the domestically manufactured AstraZeneca ‘Covishield’ vaccine.
Therefore, the focus of many prominent voices in the media has moved from pressuring the government to make vaccines available, to pressuring the public to take them. Concurrently, the latent frustration of the Victorian community, from months of recurrent lockdowns, is no longer primarily vented at the government, but at the vaccine-hesitant within our communities.
This developing impulse to blame outbreaks and restrictions on those reluctant to take the vaccine is problematic for a number of reasons. For one thing, we know that vaccine-hesitant people in Victoria are more likely to live in communities of colour. For another, we know that minority communities are likely to disproportionately bear the negative health consequences of the pandemic, as compared to White Australia.
Qualitative Victorian data is hard to come by, but we know from comparable work undertaken in the US and UK that people of colour and immigrant communities report less trust in institutions, and public health messaging around vaccines may have less of an impact for that reason.
So far, rather than asking ourselves as a society what negative experiences may have led to mistrust in public health messaging, a depressing number of Melbournians have seen fit to cast the vaccine-hesitant as selfish villains. For many in this so-called progressive city, a commitment to racial justice is skin-deep, ready to be dropped as soon as it presents a perceived inconvenience, for example in the form of lockdowns.
Even where people acknowledge an equity issue in the public health discourse around vaccines, their responses frequently fall into two familiar camps: paternalism and blame. Immigrant and/or First Nations communities, so the conventional wisdom goes, are just too ignorant or misinformed to know what’s good for them. They need to be taken firmly by the hand and educated by us upstanding citizens. Alternatively, they have some cultural deficiency which makes them inherently paranoid or selfish. Who hasn’t seen the hand-over-mouth comments on social media posts deriding certain communities in the Western suburbs?
Frankly, it’s a disgrace.
Perhaps Victorians would be better served to show some humility, and listen to the people in question, rather than arrogantly brushing their concerns aside. From the perspective of white, affluent populations, for whom the public health infrastructure has traditionally worked, it can be hard to get our heads around the fact that some communities in our state could have legitimate reasons to distrust the Government of Victoria.
For all our collective hand-wringing about the societal legacies of the White Australia Policy and the Stolen Generation, amongst other injustices, we remain shockingly blind to the obvious manifestations of systemic racial inequality in modern Australia.
On the road to a more inclusive society, we’ve got a long way to go.
Publius is a final-year JD student.
The views in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of De Minimis or its Editors.