The vaccine rollout to WA mob continues to suffer as Aboriginal Medical Services work to break through misinformation about the vaccine.
The Federal Health Department’s weekly breakdown of Indigenous COVID-19 vaccination data by geographical area shows that nine of the nation’s 16 least vaccinated regions are in WA.
The State’s highest vaccination rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is in the inner suburbs of Perth, where 49.25 per cent of those eligible have received their first jab and 36 per cent have received a second.
However, it’s WA’s south-west, the Bunbury region, that’s the next most vaccinated area in the State.
In the region, 37.28 per cent of eligible Indigenous people have received one vaccine dose, and 24 per cent are double jabbed.
Those numbers lift the south-west above any of Perth’s outer suburbs, Mandurah, the Wheatbelt and the far Outback areas – regions which have the lowest rate of vaccination anywhere in the nation.
Lesley Nelson is the chief executive of the South West Aboriginal Medical Service, which provides medical services to mob throughout the region. Despite the south-west leading most of Perth’s metro areas for vaccination rates, Ms Nelson is still deeply concerned that there aren’t enough vaccines in arms.
“We’ve had good uptake in Bunbury, but we are still well behind the goal of 80 per cent,” she said.
“We have many providers of vaccinations now in this region, and at SWAMS we’ve got appointments most days and we’re most days fully booked.
“I think it’s about preparing now before the WA borders open, because at some point, they will open and then the risk of community becoming sick with the virus will be much higher than we’ve ever experienced in WA.”
Ms Nelson said the increased demand for jabs following an uptick on workplace vaccine mandates means agencies will need to share stretched resources.
“[Vaccine mandates] will place demand on resources elsewhere. But we’ve got to work also, with other agencies to collaborate and bring together the minimal resources that we do have to be able to ensure that we can continue to maintain services and be proactive,” she said.
Dr Jason Agostino of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation said unless vaccination rates for West Australian mob rise, the state may see a situation similar to Western NSW.
“[What will happen] unless Western Australia gets their vaccinations up quickly, is what’s happened in western NSW,” he said.
“When that first case came in, which was just a little bit under two months ago in August, they had only 20 per cent vaccination coverage.
“In the space of 60 days, they’ve had 1000 cases in that area, and hundreds hospitalised. I think it’s eight deaths in the western NSW region.”
Dr Agostino said vaccine uptake was slow partially because West Aussies haven’t seen firsthand how fast the Delta strain spreads, but that intensive, targeted information campaigns can overcome that.
“Tasmania has had even less COVID than Western Australia but the messages are getting through, and vaccine rates are going up at a faster rate so it can happen even to places that have been protected. But it’s really hard work,” he said.
“In some communities, they’re now going to knock door to door to talk to people and hear their concerns and talk to them about why vaccination is important. It seems like a really high intensity, going into people’s homes strategy is what’s needed.”
Ms Nelson said while the State border is closed, WA has an opportunity to get its vaccination rates up.
“It’s critical we have to prepare. It’s critical that we . . . get out there, give the correct information and address the misinformation that’s there.”
“Making sure (information) comes from people like our doctors who are experts,” she said.
“I’d like to encourage the Aboriginal community to make appointments, speak with an expert, speak with the doctors about the vaccination, gain as much information as you can to make for your decision.
“We’ve seen deaths in this country from this virus. And our Aboriginal communities are extremely vulnerable with higher rates of chronic conditions and pre-existing health conditions.”
By Sarah Smit