A student-led initiative to vaccinate homeless people for free has received an “overwhelming response”, according to its seven University of Queensland founders.
The VacSeen Project, which partners with existing health services to cover the cost of flu vaccines for the homeless, was partly the brainchild of second-year UQ Medicine student and project president, Jeremy Hunt.
“In a nutshell, we’re looking to address the fact that some people experiencing homelessness still pay for a flu vaccine out of their own pocket,” Mr Hunt said.
“Removing barriers to universal healthcare is something we are all passionate about.
“This year we partnered with Inclusive Health Clinic in South Brisbane to facilitate the vaccination of over 300 at-risk people who otherwise would not be protected from the flu.
“We have also started talking to Brisbane Youth Service about extending the project to vulnerable people in the 15–25 age bracket.
“In 2022 and beyond, we want to establish an immunisation outreach program for areas not currently serviced.”
The directors behind the project are four UQ medicine students, a UQ law student, a UQ business student, and a former UQ biomedical science graduate now at Griffith University.
Funds to support the registered charity have been raised via generous donations from both organisations and individuals.
“Support for The VacSeen Project has been quite overwhelming, both in the monetary sense and the moral support aspect,” Mr Hunt said.
“People can donate via our website, or they can volunteer to work with us as a health professional.
“Our second key activity is advocacy, and this is an area in which we will become more prominent.
“We will call on the Queensland Government to follow the precedent set by South Australia in allowing the homeless free flu vaccines at any immunisation clinic or general practice.”
Currently, homeless people who are aged 65 and over, pregnant, suffer chronic health conditions, or those who identify as Indigenous can receive free flu vaccinations.
However, approximately one third of those experiencing homelessness do not qualify.
“I’d been thinking for a while how I could do something to benefit the community,” Mr Hunt said.
“Rather than waiting until I graduate from medical school, I wanted to start now.”
A past school captain and OP1 student at Brisbane Grammar School, Mr Hunt also works as a researcher for public policy thinktank the Grattan Institute and lectures undergraduates in anatomy.
Other directors of The VacSeen Project are Jack Kelso-Ribbe, Pele Toussaint, Lili Wackwitz, Varun Karnik, Hannah Bates, and Michael Fielding.
Mr Kelso-Ribbe is the president of the UQ Towards International Medical Equity (TIME) organisation, Mr Toussaint is UQ’s Australian Medical Students Association Global Health representative, while Ms Wackwitz was former vice-president of the UQ Student Union.
Mr Karnik was awarded first class honours for his biomedicine thesis, Ms Bates is the current second-year representative for UQ Medicine students and Mr Fielding runs the UQ Law Society publication The Obiter.
Image above left: (L-R) Michael Fielding, Varun Karnik, Lili Wackwitz, Pele Toussaint, Jack Kelso-Robbe, Jeremy Hunt, Hannan Bates.