Introduction by Croakey: Religious and community leaders can play a powerful role in encouraging COVID-19 vaccination among their congregations and communities. But they need both support and the appropriate resources to ensure these messages are effective.
Professor Robert Booy of the University of Sydney has worked with pilgrims to the Hajj to help promote influenza and other vaccinations to help to prevent infectious disease transmission at this mass gathering event.
Below, Booy reflects on his work with Muslim communities – abroad and in Australia – in helping to spread the word about the importance of vaccination.
Robert Booy writes:
The recent New Zealand COVID-19 outbreak centred on a Pentecostal church, while the reported index case in Canberra’s latest outbreak had visited a Pentecostal Church. He was, we are told, without symptoms, blameless, but incubating COVID-19, and was unaware when, how and that he had become infectious.
Yet we also saw the index case vilified on social media for spreading COVID-19 disease, prompting ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr to defend the man in a press conference.
Pentecostal Christian services are robust – singing, speaking, and shouting to God – and respiratory infections can be easily transmitted in these large, crowded congregations.
Twenty years ago, as Professor of Paediatrics, I dealt with a Meningococcal disease outbreak in London that afflicted some large Muslim and Pentecostal congregations and spread through the community.
It was instructive that outbreaks may occur when large groups meet. The Imam of the largest mosque (I cared medically for his daughter) preached from his pulpit on the value of vaccination.
Importance of faith groups
Disease does not respect the righteous — the rain falls where it does.
Faith communities are important to our society. They are full of culturally and linguistically diverse Australians, who need clear, up-to-the-minute communications about COVID-19 disease and the importance of vaccination.
Translated resources are rapidly being developed by federal and state governments, SBS, and local religious, educational and ethnic communities. Videos are also available for GPs, pharmacists, and the public. Religious leaders in the US are also recommending COVID-19 vaccination, and there have been international calls for religion and science to collaborate in promoting vaccination.
I submit that all religious, ethnic, community and sports groups need to be supported to provide better COVID-19 education, informed by a bottom-up, co-operative, educational approach, for culturally, linguistically and educationally diverse Australians.
The Immunisation Coalition and the Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases (at the University of Sydney) are contributing to the cause, working with the Grand Mufti of Australia and Muslim communities, using Arabic translations, to reinforce the importance of vaccination. The initiative builds on a longstanding relationship through University of Sydney health initiatives I have led about pilgrims’ welfare.
Muslim leaders have welcomed the new Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases initiatives.
The question is not, who is to blame? But, how can we work together more effectively to control COVID-19?
Professor Robert Booy is an Honorary Senior Professorial Fellow, Department of Child and Adolescent Heath, University of Sydney, infectious diseases expert and epidemiologist. He is Chair of the Scientific Committee, Immunisation Coalition and consults to all vaccination companies in Australia.
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