Despite delays in the vaccine rollout, Western Australian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are now getting vaccines administered in regional communities.

Across the nation, 124,096 First Nations people have received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccine (21.4 per cent of those eligible) and over 50,365 (8.7 per cent) have received a second dose.

All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 16 are eligible for the vaccine.

Though the vaccine rollout has been slower than the Aboriginal Health Council of WA (AHCWA) would have liked, AHCWA Public Health Medical Officer Dr Marianne Wood said delays allowed more time to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

“The slowness isn’t a terribly bad thing. There was some concern from some quarters in the community about the vaccine, and that’s going away now,” she said.

“In WA we don’t have COVID right now knocking on our door, although that could change in a flash. I think it’s okay at this stage because we are taking it slowly and gently.”

Remote WA Aboriginal Health Services (AHS) are rolling out the vaccine in association with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). An AHS can book in for vaccine delivery and any extra assistance required with administration is provided by the RFDS.

“The frustrating thing is that supplies of Pfizer have been very slow to come through, and that definitely is an issue, especially at the beginning,” Dr Wood said.

“But now all but one of our services have signed up [to the rollout] and have dates for starting — if they haven’t already.”

Dr Wood said the flexibility of Pfizer delivery from the Commonwealth is positive, with vaccinations able to be delivered from both Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and State health services like the Western Australian Country Health Service.

“The Kimberley Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services were the first within Western Australia that offered the Pfizer vaccine,” she said.

In the remote community of Warmun, a vaccination blitz driven by local Elders and a trusted community GP saw 76 per cent of eligible people vaccinated against COVID-19 in just two days.

Dr Wood said it’s very important that First Nations people get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“What we do know is that these are very good vaccines, both the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer, in terms of protecting people against bad COVID,” Dr Wood said.

“It’s very clear that your chances of getting hospitalised, your chances of dying is hugely reduced if you’re vaccinated.

“And the outcomes are worse … the older you are and if you’ve got other chronic diseases, but as a young person, as we’ve seen in Sydney, you’re not protected at all necessarily. Anyone can get bad COVID.”

By Sarah Smit