Back Arrow
Back to News

Nursing scholarship supports closing the gap in immunisation


Sonja Elia is a nurse practitioner specialising in immunisation at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) and is passionate about making a difference to Indigenous children’s health.

In 2019, Sonja was awarded the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Nursing Development Scholarship, supported by the RCH Auxiliaries. Each year, the scholarship allows one outstanding nurse to enhance their skills by exploring innovative practices and models of care across Australia and internationally.

Thanks to this philanthropic support, Sonja dedicated her expertise to develop a culturally appropriate immunisation program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“This scholarship enabled me to travel overseas and present data at international conferences on current immunisation rates for Indigenous children at the RCH, as well as learn from colleagues about the strategies they use to improve this work. Protecting all children from vaccine preventable disease such as measles and whooping cough is important, and particularly significant for vulnerable patients,” said Sonja.

“I feel extremely privileged to have had this opportunity, not only the prestige of being awarded the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Nursing Development Scholarship, but to be able to make a difference to Indigenous children’s health. I am incredibly passionate about immunisation as well as the advancement of my skills, and this scholarship enabled me to improve both.”

With her learnings, Sonja worked alongside the Department of Health and Human Services  to launch the Bubba Jabs campaign in Victoria, which had previous success in Queensland. She developed immunisation brochures and learning resources and distributed them in various areas of the RCH, including the Wadja Aboriginal Family Place and the Immunisation Clinic.

“Since work in this area began in 2019, we have seen immunisation rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at the RCH improve by eight per cent for scheduled vaccines on the National Immunisation Program and influenza vaccination rates improve by 25 per cent. Additionally more than 6,000 Bubba Jabs brochures have been distributed across Victoria, which is extremely encouraging and shows us how important these resources are,” said Sonja.

The delivery of successful immunisation programs within Indigenous communities depends on culturally appropriate health services. Sonja hopes to continue to close the gap and make lasting changes to improve Indigenous immunisation for the long term.

During NAIDOC Week 2020, the RCH recognises the important role it plays in supporting Indigenous communities and providing a culturally safe environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and their families, and its staff and visitors.

Please visit to celebrate NAIDOC Week 2020.

Sonja Elia, RCH nurse practitioner and 2019 Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Nursing Development Scholarship recipient