The power of communities to create real change

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By Senior Consultant Lucinda Szczypior

As a mum, the recent spike in meningococcal cases in Tasmania tears at my heart strings and frightens me to the core.   

However, the one positive I take away from all the heartbreaking personal stories, community protest and subsequent media coverage, is that we as a community have the power to create change. 

With a relatively small population when compared to the national stage, Tasmanians have a unique ability to capture the communities wishes or concerns about an issue and transform this into simple action that resonates and gets results. 

When communities are mobilised into action by a common cause and a simple and clear mandate, real change can occur.  We saw this just last week with the announcement of the extension of the Tasmanian Government’s sponsored meningococcal vaccine program. 

I am one of those parents you have no doubt read about, lining up in desperation at several chemists to have my son’s B and A, C, W and Y private vaccination scripts filled.  The National Immunisation Program (NIP) introduced the A, C, W and Y vaccination for children aged 12 months on 1 July 2018, previously only the C vaccine was included, and last year the Tasmanian Government also extended its program to target 15-19 year olds.  

An online petition established just last week to Make the Meningococcal B Vaccine free in Tasmania had received over 3,904 signatures on Wednesday and was up to 7,695 at the time this article was published. 

The online petition gained traction quickly through other community members sharing on social media platforms, an option to send via email to friends, to provide financial support, as well as resulting local media coverage. 

The petition’s author, Erica Burleigh, tells of her own personal story with the deadly disease, her resulting vision loss, and of her second chance at life.  In her petition, she writes “I’ve decided to do what I can to stop this happening to others – enough is enough.  With the help of my best friend, Kacee, we are going to do all we can to ensure the unfunded meningococcal B vaccine becomes available for free for high risk groups in Tasmania.” 

Community outcry and media reports have only added their strength to this public campaign, with the result being the Government’s announcement late last week that Tasmania’s meningococcal vaccination program for the ACWY vaccine will be extended to all Tasmanians under 21. 

Personal stories and a strong and clear argument can mobilise a community to act.  Whether that action is signing an online petition, commenting on social media, sending letters to government representatives, attending protests, contacting your local news outlet or simply discussing it with friends. 

The ability to relate to a local and human face through story telling which demonstrates the core issue, is often the key to success in campaigns such as these  

It is humbling to see that when communities rally together, we can create change, and real change that may save lives. 

This is communication at its most inspiring. 

However, work still needs to be done to extend the meningococcal B vaccine in Tasmania, and it remains to be seen if Tasmanians continue to use this public momentum to keep the pressure on the Government to expand their program to the B vaccine.   

The South Australian Government has just announced the introduction of a meningococcal B vaccine program to kick off on 1 October. 

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