As the vaccine rollout progresses slowly for Indigenous people, health advocates in a locked down New South Wales say there isn’t enough accessibility to the vaccine.
On August 9, 155,552 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people had received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccine, representing 26.8 per cent of the eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population aged 16 years and over.
Thirteen per cent or 75,894 people have received a second dose.
On August 3, 25 per cent of the Indigenous population had received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccine, with 11.5 percent having received their second dose.
That’s an increase of just 1.8 per cent in a week of those receiving their first dose only.
At this rate, Australia will only see 66 percent of the First Nations population vaccinated by Christmas.
Dr Peter Malouf is a Wakka Wakka and Wulli Wulli man, who grew up on Bindal Wulgurukaba Country near Townsville, Queensland.
He’s the Executive Director of Operations at the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW and has had both of his Pfizer shots.
Dr Malouf said the decision for him was about being able to see family and know they were safe.
“The reason behind it certainly was wanting to protect mob and community but also to protect my family and being able to go back home as well,” he said.
“There’s been talk about vaccination passports. I’m from Queensland, and I live in New South Wales in Sydney.
“I haven’t seen my parents for a while and I’m hoping that by being fully vaccinated, I will be able to go back home at some point when lockdown restrictions get reduced.”
Dr Malouf said he believes the vaccination process isn’t accessible enough.
“Particularly in New South Wales, we actually have not gone back to the basic principles around public health.”
“The first principles of public health are about informing and empowering communities. get community members and mob around the table to decide what’s needed and how fast we can rapidly respond to need,” he said.
Dr Malouf said that consultation hasn’t been done.
“To access vaccines you had to go online, but the Government didn’t really think about those populations that don’t have access to the internet.”
“How are we communicating to them about their eligibility or access to the vaccine?”
Dr Malouf said his experience of vaccination was a difficult one, with the heavily bureaucratised mass vaccine centre bringing up traumatic memories of Centrelink queues.
He questioned why mobile vaccination clinics taking vaccines to community haven’t been used in the vaccine rollout.
“The other thing that hasn’t happened, particularly in New South Wales, is how the mob actually transport from home to the clinic to get vaccinated. What does that look like? Is there a bus service?
“Mob are already traumatized and fearful because there’s been multiple levels of miscommunication and understanding what’s going on. I think there’s this vaccine hesitancy because the message is not clear.”
A spokesperson for the Federal Department of Health told NIT the “National COVID Vaccine Taskforce is committed to ensuring all Australians have access to a COVID-19 vaccine”.
“The Taskforce in partnership with the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector recognises the importance of providing culturally appropriate and safe options to access COVID-19 vaccines,” the spokesperson said.
“As such will continue to work to ensure all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have access to COVID19 vaccinations in a culturally safe and appropriate way should they wish to.”
The Department did not respond to questions regarding why the Indigenous vaccination rate was increasing at a slower rate than the wider population.
By Sarah Smit