The Perth metro area’s only Aboriginal Medical Service desperately needs more funding, with staff “incredibly stretched” by the massive task of immunising Perth’s Aboriginal population.

Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service began offering COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as the vaccine was available in the State.

Derbarl Yerrigan CEO and Eastern Arrernte woman Tracey Brand said it was a significant commitment and that the vaccine drive has used considerable resources.

“We haven’t been appropriately funded to deliver [vaccinations] and it does impact on our primary care services,” Brand told NIT.

“There’s a real impact on our workforce and they are incredibly stretched [and] incredibly tired but also incredibly committed to getting all of our mob vaccinated.”

At present, WA’s record on COVID-19 vaccinations is running behind the rest of the country.

So far, only 17.3 per cent of WA’s eligible Aboriginal population has had their first dose of the vaccine, with 8.9 per cent having received both jabs.

Nationally as August 25, 201,014 people or 34.6 percent of the eligible Indigenous population have been vaccinated, and over 108,294 or 18.7 percent have received a second dose.

When asked why WA’s numbers are so low, a spokesperson for Health Minister Roger Cook said that was a question for the Commonwealth.

“Vaccinating our Aboriginal communities against COVID-19 is one of the most important health challenges we face. It must be done. No excuses,” he said.

“The size of our State presents challenges unlike just about anywhere else in the world. But the current vaccination rate is far too low. It needs to be much higher.

“Under the federal rollout plan the State Governments have not been in charge of Aboriginal vaccination.

“But we will be doing everything possible to increase the numbers as quickly as possible.”

Medical Director Dr Richelle Douglas said Derbarl Yerrigan’s model of culturally appropriate care will be key to getting vaccines in arms for Aboriginal people, particularly for other vaccine providers.

“I think that the blockages have been in finding a culturally appropriate way to get the message across to that group, and also to provide vaccinations in a culturally appropriate way,” she said.

“Most of the State-run and other clinics do not have Aboriginal Health Practitioners present.”

Dr Douglas said the benefits of Aboriginal-led healthcare means more Aboriginal people get vaccinated.

“I think that the confidence in the vaccine increases when you have Aboriginal Health Practitioners leading the model of care.”

“And that’s the big difference between an Aboriginal service and a non-Aboriginal service; the wraparound service, so that we can give people the time that they need to yarn, have their questions answered in a way that they understand and feel comfortable with, so that people who are getting the vaccine have fully consented, understand the benefits, get vaccinated and tell their friends.”

Derbarl Yerrigan’s four COVID-19 vaccine clinics are running five days a week in East Perth and three days at their Midland, Maddington and Mirrabooka clinics. They have now administered over 3,000 vaccines since vaccinations became available.

They’d like to expand further but are seeking more funding and staff before that’s possible.

“Sustainable funding has not been forthcoming and the [Medicare Benefit Scheme] rebate for COVID vaccination is lower than what we could get flu vaccination so that in itself is a barrier,” Dr Douglas said.

“Certainly, with more funding and more staff we could potentially open COVID vaccination clinics five days a week at all our sites.”

At the current rate, WA is not on target to vaccinate the Aboriginal population by Christmas, but Dr Douglas said it’s not out of reach.

“I think that if we can mobilise a workforce, if we can increase the number of outreach stations, increase the number of Aboriginal-led immunisation clinics, and work more collaboratively and urgently with State and Federal Government on funding it’s definitely possible,” she said.

“But we need to act now.”

By Sarah Smit