Since the global coronavirus pandemic landed in our state nearly 19 months ago, we have asked a lot of Victorians.

We’ve needed people to stay at home, to avoid meeting up with others, to wear a mask and for some, to stop working. None of this is easy, and it has had a horrible impact on people’s lives. But it has helped us avoid the disaster of hundreds of thousands of coronavirus cases and tens of thousands of deaths. This is not a fictional projection, in many countries, this is what happened. In Greece over 14,900 deaths, in Sweden over 14,800 deaths and in the UK over 137,000 deaths.

Our goal in Victoria has always been to drive down case numbers – preventing the virus getting out of control and overwhelming our hospital system. But we have seen over the last few weeks that the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads far more quickly than what we experienced last year.

And now the advice from public health experts is that we need people to get vaccinated.

I have had some difficult conversations over the last few months with friends and family who are hesitant about getting a coronavirus vaccine.

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Some are hesitant because of what they have read in the papers or online, or what they’ve heard from family and friends. I get that. There is so much information out there – some correct and some not – it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction.

But when we are sick, when a family member is sick, when we need medical advice, we look to a medical professional. We seek out and consult an expert. We don’t just ask an unqualified random person for an opinion or get them to provide the advice they read on the internet.

Vaccines are our pathway out of the pandemic. They are safe. They are effective. And they will protect you and those around you from getting seriously ill from coronavirus. That’s what the medical professionals tell us.

Vaccines have been around for hundreds of years. One of the earliest pioneers in vaccines and immunology was Dr Emmanuel Timonis from Chios who helped develop an understanding of immunisation against small pox in the early 1700s.

Vaccination gives you a layer of protection – not just from the virus but also from “Long COVID” where people have (sometimes significant) symptoms for weeks, months and maybe years after being infected.

It also helps to protect children who cannot get vaccinated. At the moment, there is no vaccine for children under 12 years old, but they can and are getting COVID. Over 70,000 people under the age of 40 have contracted the virus in Australia including around 13,000 under the age of 10. Many young people are now in hospital being treated, some in ICU and sadly, some who need to be on a ventilator.

The more people who get vaccinated the greater confidence we can have in easing restrictions. That means being able to see family and friends, getting kids back to school, getting businesses fully open as well as Churches. The quicker you get fully vaccinated, the quicker we can return to a more normal life.

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That’s what is happening in so many places overseas, which have a far higher vaccination rate than in Australia.

This is not a political issue. Both Labor and Liberal leaders across the country have tied the easing of restrictions to vaccination targets. The Prime Minister has said “the most effective thing is for people to stay home, to get tested, to isolate, to get vaccinated.”

In Victoria, the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne has shown fantastic leadership including by setting up a temporary vaccination hub at the Church of St George in Thornbury. That hub proved incredibly successful within the local Greek community.

If you have questions about vaccines the best thing you can do is speak to your GP or pharmacist. They can give you accurate and informed medical advice.

You can book your vaccine through the Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398, online or speak to your GP. There are many appointments available right now and the process is very simple.

Thank you for all that you have done since 2020 to keep this virus from moving around the community. Everything you have done to protect yourself and your family has made a real difference in Victoria and it makes us very proud.

Steve Dimopoulos is a Member of Parliament for the District of Oakleigh