A fierce desire to end lockdown, civic pride in their district and tenacious doctors have combined to make an unlikely Sydney suburb one of the world’s most vaccinated locations.
Over 90 per cent of the people in Schofields, best known as the frontier for Sydney’s new housing developments, are fully-vaccinated – compared to 47.5 per cent for the rest of New South Wales and just 44 per cent Australia-wide.
The double dose jab rate is extraordinary not only by local standards, but international ones, comparing favourably with the nations that have highest rates of full-vaccination worldwide: Portugal (81.1 per cent), United Arab Emirates (78.5 per cent) and Singapore (75.9 per cent).
Over 90 per cent of the people in Schofields, best known as the frontier for Sydney’s new housing developments, are fully vaccinated – compared to 47.5 per cent for the rest of New South Wales and just 44 per cent Australia-wide. Pictured are beautician Samantha and labourer Jai
Jess Ingleton, 25, got an AstraZeneca jab prior to having her third child, Daisy Dawn, who was born three weeks premature on August 29
The Kohari family were frustrated to see the people of Bondi laying on the beach while they are lockdown. From left: Monique, 20, Kristine, 41, Robert, 43, Tully, Casey, 16, and Catherine Perkins, 57
The laudable vaccination rates – matched in Australia only by Edmondson Park – were cited as part of the reason NSW Health lifted the hated curfews across the city’s outer west on Wednesday.
Schofield is in Blacktown LGA, one of 12 LGAs where for a month residents couldn’t leave their homes after 9pm and were limited to two hours outside per day – if they are fully-vaccinated.
Such punishing restrictions were in marked contrast to the ‘mockdown’ across town in the east, where beaches were thronged by big crowds over the weekend.
The frustrated ‘westies’ were repeatedly told their only way out of the heavy lockdowns was to boost vaccination rates – and they responded in unprecedented numbers.
Staff at Alex Avenue Medical Practice at Schofields have worked tirelessly to ensure patients get vaccinated. From left the centre’s staff: Ms Ziyi Wang, Dr Theepa Arikaran and Mrs Pratheepa Gajendran
Dr Theepa Arikaran (pictured outside her Schofields clinic) begins every conversation with a patient by asking if the visitors has had a vaccine yet
The hero doctors
One of the significant drivers for the soaring local vaccination rate was local doctors, who urged all their patients in the very multicultural west to get the jab, and allayed some of the misgivings and misinformation that flourished in the local community.
Dr Theepa Arikaran, who started the Alex Avenue Medical Centre in 2018, told Daily Mail Australia that no matter what you visit her surgery for, the first thing she asks is whether you’ve been vaccinated.
‘If the answer is no, the second question is ‘what’s the delay’?’ Dr Arikaran says.
And they are not waiting for the patients to come to them, but rather have been working the phones to contact all their past patients to ask if they are ‘safe and well and when would you like to come in for a vaccination?’
‘We are pushing the vaccine,’ Dr Arikaran says. ‘Otherwise we are not getting out of this.’
Unusually, Dr Arikaran did not initially give her patients a choice of jab. She ordered only AstraZeneca – and no Pfizer – and explained the former held very minimal risks.
She felt that giving them the option of waiting for Pfizer implied that AstraZeneca was a poorer choice.
She’s administered Astra Zeneca to 500 patients since April, without one adverse reaction.
Now that Pfizer is recommended for all, she’s changed her tune and has secured 240 doses, which she’s mainly giving to local children.
The centre also calls patients to ask if patients are ‘safe and well and when would you like to come in for a vaccination?’
Silverwater security guard Hamana Toia missed Christmas with his sister in Queensland last year because of Covid so he’s fully jabbed to give himself the best chance of seeing her this year
The determined locals
The soaring vaccination rates was a source of justifiable pride for the people of Schofields.
Mum Jasmin Dealmeida, 34, who is due to have her second baby next month, was ‘impressed’ so many Schofields residents got vaccinated.
‘There are have been so many positive message in community groups encouraging vaccination. I like it when I see we are top of the list,’ she said.
‘It makes me feel safe and positive compared to other places.’
It makes me feel safe
Local mum Jasmin Dealmeida
Despite some lingering ‘concerns’ about the long-term safety of Covid vaccines, she was happy enough to get one jab so far.
She will have her second jab after her child is born, probably in early October.
Primary school teacher Raj, 22, said the high vaccination rate at Schofields makes her feel ‘reassured that we are safe’.
Beautician Samantha Perry, 25, was eager for everyone to get the jabs and end lockdown, as she has had to temporarily close her new beauty salon business – the Beauty Haus.
‘We just want things to get back to normal, we want our freedoms back,’ she said of getting two jabs.
Her partner Jai Dunnacliff, a 25-year-old labourer, was also eager to get vaxxed and his reasoning was more personal than professional.
‘I didn’t need it for work,’ he said. ‘I just know it’s the right thing to do.
‘We couldn’t care less about pubs and restaurants being reopened. I just want to see friends and family.’
He missed his little sister Lily’s 13th birthday and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his ‘opa’, which is Dutch for grandfather, when he died last year.
Hamana Toia, a security guard at Silverwater, said ‘we gotta do what we gotta do, right?’
Mr Toia, got two shots ‘months ago’ and thinks his suburb ‘should be out of lockdown by now’ and considers it ‘a bit unfair’ that the outer west has been subject to such stringent restrictions.
Pregnant mum Jasmin Dealmedia says Schofields being 90% fully vaccinated ‘makes me feel safe and positive compared to other places’
Electrician Michael Pilch has had to care for three teenagers and can’t wait for a chance to go surfing
He had to cancel a trip to see his sister, Maera, in Queensland last Christmas and hopes this year will be different.
Kristine Kohari, a mum of two, admits she had been against the mandatory vaccines initially, but a family fright had changed her attitude.
Her sister, a childcare worker, contracted the virus after a Covid-positive mother ignored health advice to collect her child from the centre.
‘I was against the vaccine, but I had a good think about it,’ she said.
‘What happened to my sister changed my mind.
Mrs Kohari said images of people swarming beaches ‘disgusted me’, given that the outbreak of the Delta strain in Sydney began in the eastern suburbs.
Her 20-year-old daughter, Monique, chimed in: ‘It wasn’t fair seeing them like that. They messed things up for us in the first place, it’s because of them we can’t see family.
‘Family means a lot to us.’
Mum Emma Fellers, 31, is over lockdown and can’t wait to see her twin sister Sarah. ‘I get it, I understand the logic, but here we are doing the right thing and still locked up, even though we are doing so well here,’ Ms Fellers said
Sheila Wilson supports the lockdown and says it’s more ‘unfortunate than unfair’
Mrs Kohari’s 16-year-old daughter Casey, who has autism, has been prescribed medication for depression and anxiety due to her worries about lockdown and the pandemic.
‘It’s not good for any of our mental health,’ Mrs Kohari said.
‘It’s driving us batty is what she means,’ her husband, Robert Kohari, said.
Jess Ingleton, 25, got an Astra Zeneca jab prior to having her third child Daisy Dawn, who was born three weeks premature on August 29.
‘The hardest thing about lockdown has been having three kids at home, including a newborn, and not being allowed any family or friends to visit or help,’ she said.
She misses her twice-weekly mother’s groups and especially her contact with her father, who lives only 10 minutes away.
‘It’s illegal to see him. I tried to tempt him but he’s a straighty 180 and said no.’
Receptionist Emma Fellers, 31, who has lost a day’s income after the local school she worked at cut back her shifts, said the sight of people relaxing at the beach was ‘irritating’ and ‘a double standard’ even if the chances of contracting or spreading Covid outdoors were very small.
‘I get it, I understand the logic, but here we are doing the right thing and still locked up, even though we are doing so well here,’ Ms Fellers said.
She said standards of policing across the city were not being applied fairly.
‘A friend of our was literally pulled over by police nearby and questioned when she stopped to fill her dog’s drinking bowl.
‘I’m getting so over it all now.’
She is desperate to see her twin sister Sarah, who she can’t visit despite living in the same LGA because they are in different households.
Electrician Michael Pilch, 49, says that sentiment among his friends is of ‘a lack of basic fairness’ in how Schofields and Blacktown have been treated by the NSW government.
‘I would have loved to get to the beach last weekend,’ said the keen surfer.
Mr Pilch, who is separated and raising three teenagers, aged 18, 16 and 14, says it’s been extremely difficult being denied access to the water.
‘My 18-year-old Aedan made the Australian 2003 water polo team. I’ve been hanging out to watch him again, he’s so good.’
‘They’re at a stage where they can’t really recognise authority, so it’s been difficult.’
Mr Pilch also hasn’t seen his youngest, seven-year-old Maja, who lives with her mum, for four months.
COVID-19: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
What is Covid-19?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. These can range from the common cold to more serious diseases.
Covid-19 is a disease caused by a form of coronavirus.
Other coronaviruses include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Covid-19 can range from mild illness to pneumonia.
Some people will recover easily, and others may get very sick very quickly.
People with coronavirus may experience symptoms such as:
– sore throat
– shortness of breath
Other symptoms can include runny nose, acute blocked nose (congestion), headache, muscle or joint pains, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of sense of smell, altered sense of taste, loss of appetite and fatigue.
To stop the spread of Covid-19 people with even mild symptoms of respiratory infection should get tested.
Source: Department of Health