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Ernie out on Country to encourage mob to get jabs

Sarah Smit -

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Pilbara is proceeding slowly but a push to translate jab information into Martu and a visit from Ernie Dingo have medical services feeling positive.

As a whole, 53.8 per cent of WA's Indigenous population has received one dose of any vaccine, and 36.6 per cent have received two. That's compared with a general population rate of 73.8 per cent double-jabbed.

Among the general population, the Pilbara is the least vaccinated part of WA, with a rate of only 5364 per 10,000 people vaccinated with at least one dose as of November 22.

The Pilbara has three Aboriginal medical services, Puntukurnu, Wirrika Maya, and Mawarnkarra, which in March came together to establish the Pilbara Aboriginal Health Alliance (PAHA).

The alliance is working together with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the WA Country Health Service to get jabs into arms, but PAHA CEO Chris Pickett said it was not an easy task.

"People need to remember the logistics of making this happen. We're talking about people in communities hundreds of kilometres from the nearest hospital," he said.

"We're talking about having vaccines that are very fragile and . . . frozen. (They) take six hours to thaw and then they're only good for a little while after you open the vial.

"There are all sorts of things that make it more complex to get those vaccines out."

PAHA is also working on translating messaging into language to connect with the local Aboriginal people.

Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service chief executive Robby Chibawe said the organisation was collaborating with linguists and local Martu Elders to make videos in language for social media about the vaccine.

"We are starting to pull together some really good messaging around a language we can use to explain what this is a good idea," Mr Chibawe said.

"There's been a lot of enthusiasm from the community, people want us to do everything we can to encourage people to get vaccinated."

"There's a lot of belief in (misinformation that) comes from Tik Tok and YouTube, so we're doing everything we can."

With State borders opening within months, Mr Chibawe and PAHA are working to "really increase the vaccination rate".

Mr Chibawe said with COVID-19 cases being reported in Northern Territory communities, more people were coming forward to get their jab.

"That is really beginning to rattle people's minds, so we are really hoping that over the next few weeks we'll see quite a lot of them coming forward," he said.

"There is incremental progress happening with people are coming to us, but probably not at the rate we want them to.

"We talk about 70-80 per cent, but my preference with the cohort that we are looking after is 100 per cent eligible vaccination.

"That's what we are aiming for in December, but if we get 90 per cent, I think that will be good."

Teaming up with the Pilbara's Aboriginal medical services is TV personality and Yamatji man Ernie Dingo, who is undertaking a tour of the Pilbara to meet with communities and encourage mob to get their needle.

The actor said it was about protecting communities for the next generation.

"It's that vulnerability age of the younger generation and the older generation that we need to protect," he said.

"A lot more of our people being vaccinated so that there is a strength down the line."

Connecting communities with good information is the No.1 item on Dingo's agenda.

"It's most important that we go to these communities, so that they're not isolated," he said.

The tour is run in association with Bush TV and started on November 22 with a four-week run, to be followed by a a three-week break for Christmas, and four weeks in January.

Dingo and his team will visit major towns and small communities, including Hedland, Karratha, Roebourne, and Tom Price.

By Sarah Smit

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