How to Arm Yourself with COVID-19 Vaccines?

Riding on top of the waves – breaking down barriers to accessing mental health services.

The first Harmony Day was launched in 1999 by the then NSW MP Dr. Peter Wong. This was an initiative in respond to Pauline Hanson’s 1996 maiden speech at Parliament describing how Australia being ‘swamped’ by Asians.  According to the 2016 Census, nearly half (49 per cent) of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was. Mandarin came first as the most spoken language other than English.  Eighty-five per cent of Australians agree multiculturalism has been good for Australia (check out the Australian Bureau of Statistics website for more details).

How to Arm Yourself with COVID-19 Vaccines?

I was interviewed by an SBS Cantonese Radio Producer on my views on COVID-19 Vaccinations on 2/8/21 as NSW faced with an ever-increasing daily positive COVID-19 cases. The CALD (Culturally & Linguistically Diverse) communities would need more informative health advice in the ethnic languages and communicate in a way that matches the idiom of distress or explanatory model of disease of the different culture. I acted as a cultural interpreter for fellow Chinese and Hongkongers. I introduced myself as a medical anthropologist whose research interest was the overlap between medicine and culture. My PhD research explored the help-seeking behaviours of Chinese-Australians when experiencing psychological distress similar to clinical depression. I also worked at UNSW Research Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity.

I was so glad that I did exactly what was suggested by Prof Emma McByrde (Vaccine Policy Expert at James Cook University) at the Four Corners’ ‘Lockdown’ episode‘. I reached out to specific groups with high vaccine hesitancy: the 60 – 69 years old Chinese/Hongkongers (majority of the SBS Cantonese Radio audience are from Hong Kong or Southern part of China). I mentioned in the interview that this particular age group was showing the slowest uptake of the vaccine (less than 20% fully vaccinated). One of the more ‘obvious’ reasons would be people in this age group were given no choice but to take AstraZeneca vaccines. They were also very scared of the likely blood clot and fatal consequences of TTS (Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia syndrome).

I explained that so far (as of 2/8) there were only 6 deaths from 6.1 million doses of AZ vaccines administered. The reported cases of TTS, though relatively higher (in terms of percentage) than that of other Western & European countries. It could be due to the fact that during the initial vaccine roll-out, AZ vaccines were given to the most vulnerable groups (Phase 1A & 1B). I encouraged anyone who had doubts about any side-effects of the vaccines (AZ or Pfizer) should talk to their GPs who speak their language and highly respected among the patients. The lack of trust in the Australian government was also a major contribution to vaccine hesitance.

I also cited the example of Campbelltown, one of the 8 LGAs (on harsher lockdown restrictions than the rest of Greater Sydney) only reported 9 cases of COVID-19 on the day when the lockdown was tightened for these LGAs. In a week, the positive cases for a single day on Sun (1/8) rose to 62.  This steep rise was the very reason stricter public health orders have to be added to stop the movements of the residents in this particular LGA. Hopefully, these measures could prevent exponential increase of cases. I borrowed a Chinese idiom which described how ‘a small spot fire could burn a forest!’ I reminded the residents at some of the COVID-19 cases in LGAs with high Chinese population (e.g. Bayside, Strathfield and Inner West) had to be vigilant as daily cases in these areas were already in the low 2-digit figures. I explained the reason we should stay home to minimize our movement was because it was the people who carried the virus to spread it afar. Once again, I used the analog of staying at home as a strategy to ‘STOP the FIRE SPREADING’!  I reiterated the social distancing measures, wearing face masks and hand hygiene were all important strategies to ‘put out the fire’.       

I also touched on the fact that most SBS Radio audience would have taken vaccines like polio, small pox, hepatitis B and the annual flu shoot. These vaccines are effective in protecting us from adverse health consequences if we were to contract the disease. For the first time, a Power Point Presentation by Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC in USA) compared COVID-19 with other common highly infectious diseases. It is more infectious than small pox and as infectious as chicken pox. These ‘names’ are familiar to the Chinese listeners, something they can relate to. I hope after the broadcast of the segment of my interview, some senior Chinese citizens may decide to ‘arm themselves with an AstraZeneca jab! 

An email from Prof Emma McByrde with additional points to consider:

Dear Bibiana,

Well done with your efforts at reaching the communities who have understandable vaccine hesitancy. One thing worth emphasizing is that when it comes to the severest forms of COVID-hospitalisation and death- AZ performs extremely well and is as good as Pfizer (after two doses)

It is hard to discuss what a 1 in a million risk is like with people, because it is not a risk we as humans are good at understanding. I like to talk about other things that have similar risks, like driving for 250 km or cycling for 30km. Each day we all take on average about one per million risk of unnatural death -mostly risking traffic accident, but also adding up all the workplace accidents, homicides, accidental drowning, poisoning etc. Every day . If we do anything out of the ordinary like go skiing, or ride a scooter or smoke we take much higher risks per event. I think that helps people find the perspective for the risk for the AZ vaccine.

Keep up the good work,


Martin Luther King Jr 1963

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