It will be sometime until health experts know for sure the percentage of people with mental illness who have not received a COVID vaccine, but based on past research, academics like Charles Sturt University's Dr Russell Roberts believe there are huge obstacles around vaccine access for this vulnerable demographic.
"People with mental illness seem to be more at risk of contracting preventable illnesses, for all sorts of reasons, often because of the density of housing in which they live and [because]... some people with mental illness are marginalised from community," he said.
"We've seen exactly the same thing with COVID; those who are sort of marginalised, don't seem to be having the same uptake of immunisation for COVID.
"COVID has highlighted to us that that's the case for a lot of other vaccinations that people need to have, such as hepatitis A and B, the flu vaccine and the human papillomavirus vaccine... Some groups in society are missing out and we've got to be proactive in reaching them. This has been the case for people with mental illness [when it comes to] other vaccinations for decades."
As the current Chair of the National Alliance for Rural and Remote Mental Health, the former Director of Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Services for Western NSW and the National Director of Charles Sturt University's Equally Well research team, Dr Roberts is bringing together an expert panel to try and explore solutions to the problem.
This initiative will take the form of a free webinar for both health professionals and the wider community at lunchtime on Thursday, and will feature representatives from government, not-for-profit, and community sectors offering perspectives, experiences, and suggestions on how to improve access to vaccines for those living with mental illness.
"People with mental illness are seven times more likely to be hospitalised due to vaccine-preventable illnesses, and then six times more likely to be hospitalised for flu," Dr Roberts said.
"So we don't know the data of who's being vaccinated, but we do have the data on who's being hospitalised - which gives us a pretty good idea... of [the link between mental illness and physical health]."
To register for the 'Vaccination - achieving equity of access' webinar on Thursday, October 21, from midday to 1pm, visit the Equally Well website.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
HAVE YOUR SAY
- Send us a letter to the editor using the form below ...