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Barwon Health / Barwon South West Public Health Unit

(03) 4215 4000

Vital service has profound impact on local family

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

The Barwon Specialist Immunisation Service (SIS) commenced in February 2021 to provide specialist consultation and vaccine advice for community doctors, immunisers and consumers during the largest scale and fastest vaccine rollout in Australia’s history.

The Barwon SIS is a branch of the state-wide VicSIS service. Barwon SIS services all of regional Victoria. The service consists of senior specialists with expertise in immunisation, trainee doctors with interests in public health and primary care, senior immunisation nurses, and experienced administrative staff.

One objective of the service is to facilitate supervised vaccination and vaccination under sedation for specific groups of people within the community.

Recently local mother of three, Lee Kelly wrote to the Barwon South West Public Health Unit (BSWPHU) to express what the service did for their family and their 32-year-old autisitc son Richard.

Recently I called the specialist immunisation support program at Barwon Health to inquire if we could get a COVID-19 vaccination booster for our disabled son (fourth shot). He is eligible under the health guidelines as he regularly attends disability care facilities in Geelong and Colac.

I would like to make the case for how important this service is for our family.

Richard, our 32 year old autistic son, will not tolerate any invasive medical treatments. We had long been searching for somewhere where he could receive preventative medical treatments that took into account his disability and behavioural difficulties. I cannot accurately put into words the horror of waiting in queues at medical facilities with Richard and having to explain to staff ‘no he won’t just wait there until someone is ready to see him’ 'no he won’t just open up his mouth’ ‘no he won’t swallow that medicine’. It is exhausting.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he was in one of the first groups eligible for vaccination. Many failed attempts to get him vaccinated for seasonal flu had taught us he would not just roll up his sleeve. We unsuccessfully investigated so many options to try to get his COVID-19 vaccination done.

Understandably no GP was willing to provide the sedation he would need for a successful injection in their rooms. Without vaccinations he would not have been permitted to attend day programs or respite services.

It was an absolute game changer when the Disability Liaison Unit put us in touch with the SIS team. We were treated with respect and our information used to streamline the process for Richard. My husband and I practically cried with relief at how easy the process eventually was. Richard was able to not only receive his COVID-19 vaccinations, but to be updated with other long neglected requirements like flu shots and tetanus. He even had bloods taken for the first time in years.

Despite their lack of visibility in the community, disabled people like Richard are at very high risk for communicable diseases. He has no awareness of personal hygiene and cannot take any preventative action such as wearing  masks. He mixes with a large number of other vulnerable people in a variety of settings everyday.

We see this specialist immunisation service as essential for keeping our son healthy and allowing him to participate in society as far as he is able.

 We would like to continue to keep him up to date with vaccinations available to the community.


Lee Kelly and Dennis Sharples