After getting his second COVID-19 vaccine, University of Wollongong student Ahsan Anees was expecting to receive some kind of proof of his fully vaccinated status.
"I went to Sydney Olympic Park [mass vaccination centre] and as soon as I got the jab, they said 'exit the building'," Mr Anees, who is the international student representative on the University's Academic Senate, said.
Following up with staff at the site, Mr Anees was given a brochure explaining how to access proof of vaccination.
"The brochure had two sections, one for those with Medicare, and one for those without."
This began Mr Anees's journey into the byzantine world of accessing proof of vaccination without a Medicare card.
Unlike Australian citizens and permanent residents, those in Australia on some short term visas do not have access to Medicare. This includes international students and those in Australia on a work visa.
Anyone in Australia, regardless of visa or Medicare status, is entitled to a COVID-19 vaccine, however accessing the vaccine and proof of vaccination varies significantly.
Mr Anees chose to travel to Sydney from Wollongong to get his first vaccination in June 2021 at the mass vaccination hub in Sydney Olympic Park as most GPs will not provide vaccines to those without Medicare as they cannot bill the federal government for the cost of vaccination without a patient's Medicare details.
At the time of Mr Anees's first dose, the Wollongong mass vaccination hub was yet to open. In addition, pharmacies which now offer vaccines to those without Medicare were yet to offer vaccines to those under 40.
Today, those without Medicare in NSW's Illawarra can access a COVID-19 vaccine at NSW Health-run vaccination centres, pharmacies and Commonwealth vaccination clinics, the only one of which in the Illawarra is at the Helensburgh Respiratory Clinic.
While getting the vaccine is the first step, providing proof of vaccination can be a more arduous task.
First, Mr Anees had to set up a MyGov account. For visa holders this can be done by entering or scanning the details of their Australian visa. Then, to access your vaccine certificate, Mr Anees needed to link his MyGov account to his Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI), a service offered to those without Medicare to keep track of health services such as immunisation history.
Like MyGov, IHIs are created through Services Australia, and enable a person to link their vaccination history, held by the Australian Immunisation Register, to their MyGov account, said Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen.
"There are resources available on the Services Australia website in over 60 languages that explain how people can get proof of vaccination, and how to sign up to the Individual Health Identifier service.
Alternatively, through My Health Record, a service offered by the Australian Digital Health Agency, visa holders can access their COVID-19 digital certificate.
With high volumes of people needing proof of vaccinations in mid 2021, there was a backlog in the creation of My Health Records. To this day, the website notes that "Due to COVID-19, we are receiving a high number of application forms, so processing times are longer. We can't currently provide indicative timeframes, but will send you a letter when we have processed your registration."
For Mr Anees, who had already created a MyGov account before getting vaccinated, his vaccination certificate appeared soon after his second vaccine. However, for his friends and fellow international students who hadn't already created the account, proving their vaccination status became more difficult.
"Because you're not citizens, you're not in the system," said Mr Anees "It's just our passports, so there were times when people were facing difficulties, because the jabs were not getting recorded."
Having proof of vaccination will be essential for many international students who work in workplaces where vaccinations are mandated. International students make up a key component of high-risk occupations such as nursing and aged care where workers are required by law to be vaccinated, as well as 15 per cent of waitstaff in Australia, according to the 2016 census, with many hospitality businesses mandating that their staff be fully vaccinated.
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As Australia's borders now re-open, an emerging issue will be for those who have been double-jabbed overseas and now need to prove their vaccination status to local employers.
Students and other visa holders need to provide proof of an approved vaccine, in English to a local vaccination provider. The Department of Home Affairs provides a free translating service for international students and other visa holders of documents such as vaccination records, with documents being translated within 30 days.
While much of this information is available online, Mr Anees said from his experience, there was little guidance from UOW in assisting students in navigating multiple government departments, state and federal, and information that may not be in a student's first language.
"In terms of having proper workshops, and guiding students in how to get a vaccine, I think that was missing."
A UOW spokesperson said that the university has provided support to students throughout the pandemic in accessing vaccinations, including a vaccination drive on campus, however acknowledged that for incoming students proving their vaccination status has been a burden.
"UOW understands that the process to convert an international vaccination certificate into a digital version they can upload to their MyGov, Service NSW or digital wallet apps is complicated and hard to do."
To address this, students can find information online on the UOW website or at student welcome hubs on campus.
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