The vaccination rollout in regional Victoria is reaching people regardless of income, education or social status, in contrast to data emerging from metropolitan Melbourne.
Analysis by Monash University data scientist Dr Behrooz Hassani-Mahmooei shows a clear correlation between vaccine rates and socioeconomic status in Melbourne, whereas the same pattern does not appear for regional areas.
Dr Hassani-Mahmooei said he was surprised at the contrast and that it might show the differences in the way people access health care services in country areas.
Deakin University chair of epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett said a key difference was the socioeconomic (SES) profile of country communities compared with the city.
"Regional areas are generally more homogeneous, there is less contrast and diversity, and so there's less of a spread in SES status," she said.
Professor Bennett agreed that people in regional areas would also access health care differently than city folk and were more likely to have a good relationship with a GP they trust.
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She said both the regional and metropolitan data showed a cluster of moderate to high SES areas also having good vaccination rates, adding that it was the areas with unusually low vaccination rates that could become a problem when the state reopens.
"Certain pockets or communities with lower vaccination rates will be more vulnerable when we open up," she said.
The potential vulnerability of Indigenous communities has become a concern in Mildura's recent outbreak. The south-west boasts one of the best rates of Indigenous COVID-19 vaccination in the state, although rates still significantly trail the general population.
First dose rates for the south-west hit 95 per cent in the latest data, while second doses were on the cusp of 70 per cent. In both cases the region is leading the state.
Indigenous rates are around 20 percentage points behind for both first and second doses, meaning those communities may still be vulnerable when restrictions ease in late October and early November.
"When I look at the group of regional areas down low (in the data) it really worries me," Professor Bennett said. "The virus has a way of seeking out unvaccinated communities."
If vaccination rates for Indigenous people in the region continue at recent rates, it could take months for coverage to hit the all-important 80 per cent figure.
But the most recent second dose figures for the general population show a big jump in second doses, with the south-west notching a record 7.4 percentage point increase. If Indigenous second doses can match those rates it is possible they will reach 70 and 80 per cent by mid-to-late November.
"If you leave pockets of the community unprotected, the virus will keep flaring up," Professor Bennett said.
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