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WA border reopening despite low Indigenous vaccination rates

Sarah Smit -

Concerns are being raised by First Nations people and advocates about West Australia's reopening plan, with anxiety rising in communities about the possibility of COVID infections while vaccination rates remain low.

As a whole, 49.89 per cent of WA's Indigenous population has received one dose of any vaccine, and 33.82 per cent have received two. That's compared to a general population rate of 70.3 per cent double jabbed.

Among the general population, the Pilbara is the least vaccinated part of Western Australia, with a rate of only 5,260 per 10,000 people vaccinated with at least one dose.

Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service (PAMS) delivers medical services to the Aboriginal people in the Pilbara.

PAMS CEO Robby Chimbawe said the prospect of the interstate border reopening is helping vaccination rates, but said there is still lots of hesitancy especially among the 30-40 year old age group.

"The rate is still low, but we are slowly making progress," he said.

"The older Martu people are much better [vaccinated], but the thirties to forties vaccination rate is still low."

Greens Senator for WA, Yamatji-Noongar woman Dorinda Cox said responsibly for the low rates of vaccination rest with both state and Federal Governments.

"I have strong concerns about the fact that the police are leading the vaccine response in WA and that this could be counterproductive given the history First Nations people have with police," she said.

"First Nations communities should not be put at risk from COVID because State and Federal Governments can't do their job properly. First Nations people have been a priority group for COVID-19 vaccines since the beginning of the rollout."

"Yet, I haven't seen a contingency plan for WA for when COVID reaches communities or any meaningful leadership from the Commonwealth. This is like a ticking time bomb for our communities.

"As a matter of urgency, First Nations vaccination rates need to be significantly lifted across WA through a community-led response."

WA Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Vince Catania told NIT that he was concerned that the reopening goal did not consider the lower rates of vaccination in the Indigenous community.

"Firstly, I have concerns that when the government talks about 80 or 90 percent vaccination rates before they will consider opening to the world, they are taking a global figure of our total population rather than [looking at] populations that are placed in regional Western Australia, which has got extremely low vaccination rates," he said.

"But when it comes to specifically Aboriginal people living in remote communities, I don't think there is enough effort being put in by the government to increase vaccination rates amongst Aboriginal people."

The Shadow Minister echoed Senator Cox's concerns, saying regional hospital services would struggle to cope with an outbreak of COVID in remote communities.

"There's red lights flashing everywhere regional WA if COVID strikes our regional communities that are under vaccinated, and we've got a population of Aboriginal people that are severely under vaccinated," he said.

"It's a recipe for disaster, because the government hasn't made it easier for people to get vaccinated, plus a health system that will not be able to cope."

Western Australian Health Minister Roger Cook's office did not respond to requests for comment.

By Sarah Smit

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