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Maningrida community sets COVID-19 vaccination record

Sarah Smit -

A Indigenous community 500 kilometres east of Darwin has set vaccination records by inoculating 65 per cent of their eligible population in just three and a half days.

Maningrida is home to the Gunavidji people and is a large community with a population of over 2,000 at the last census.

Over three and a half days in early July, the Maningrida Mala'la Health Service, with assistance from the Northern Territory Government's Top End Health Service, inoculated 1,333 of the community's 1,800 residents eligible for the vaccine.

On the Sunday, Mala'la set the record for most vaccinations in a day, with 453 vaccines administered in one day.

According to the Territory's Remote Housing Minister Chansey Paech, it's the most vaccinations completed in one day by any vaccination hub in the NT.

The Mala'la Health Service Aboriginal Corporation's Health and Community Services Manager Lesley Woolf said the success of the program came down to good planning.

"The was a lot of preparation in the lead-up, particularly with health promotion," Woolf said.

"In the lead up, there was lots of social media, [and] lots of use of our local Traditional Owners, senior staff and senior Elders."

Elders and senior members of the community were heavily involved in the promotion of the vaccination drive, appearing in videos and at pop-up stalls at local shopping centres to promote vaccination.

Trusted doctors from the community health service were interviewed about vaccinations and videos were distributed around the community.

"Being very honest in terms of answering the questions [was important]. People had genuine concerns, which we responded to quickly," Woolf said.

Mala'la's hard work on publicity meant that many people self-presented to the clinic on vaccination day, but free transportation was provided for those who didn't.

"We did have a bus and a bus driver, and he went around the community. Some of the Traditional Owners went around the community on the bus with a megaphone, reminding people that it was vaccination time," Woolf said.

Elders in the community rode a bus around town with a megaphone reminding residents that the vaccination clinic was running over the weekend. Photo supplied.

Though the preliminary promotion and on-the-day coordination was managed by Mala'la, a surge workforce was provided by the Top End Health Service to help cope with the numbers over the four-day clinic.

"It was a good team effort, between Mala'la staff and the Top End Health staff," Woolf said.

"And the community. I mean the community were amazing. The Elders and the [Traditional Owners] were very involved in the promotion, all the way through."

Woolf said travel by members of the community made a short vaccination drive the most effective option.

"Our population is very transient, and we were able to get Pfizer, so the more people we could do at once, the better," she said.

"And then it's not so hard to catch them all again, because there's only the three or four weeks between the two vaccinations."

The success of the vaccination drive is a victory for the Maningrida Health Service, particularly as concern grows around the low rates of vaccination in Aboriginal communities.

Mala'la Health Service Aboriginal Corporation Chair Charlie Gunnaburra was vaccinated at the clinic. Photo supplied.

Meanwhile, the Northern Land Council has produced new COVID-19 travel advice in Kriol, an Aboriginal language spoken widely in the Top End.

Produced by the Meigim Kriol Strongbala program, the material provides a Kriol version of the NLC's latest travel advice about access to and from the Greater Darwin area and Aboriginal Land in the Top End.

NLC chief executive Marion Scrymgour said it was important to get information to people quickly when COVID-19 entered the Territory.

"The Meigim Kriol Strongbala mob have provided a really quick turnaround to a call by the NLC's Executive Council to get information out to our mob in their own languages in this very urgent situation," Scrymgour said.

"We've learnt from our experience when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 that people out bush need straight forward information in their own languages."

The NLC says more COVID-19 information is currently being translated into language.

By Sarah Smit

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