The Department of Health has extended eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations to include all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples over the age of 16 in an attempt to ensure vulnerable communities are protected against the virus.

The Department of Health announced the changes in a statement on Friday, saying that more people nationally will be offered “a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine” from Tuesday.

“Vaccines give very strong, and sustained, protection against the severe forms of COVID-19,” the statement said.

“Every person who is vaccinated will be helping to protect the health of their family, friends and community.”

The Government has also said it is committing to better access to vaccination centres, with the rollout of over 4,600 primary care vaccination centres — including 4,400 general practices and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS).

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group (Taskforce) on COVID-19, formed in March 2020, welcomed the announcement.

The Taskforce is co-chaired by the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the Department of Health.

“The Taskforce welcomes the decisions announced following the National Cabinet meeting … Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are 16 years and older are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine,” the Taskforce said.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine is preferred for adults aged 50 years and over. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for adults 16 years and older.”

The Taskforce also acknowledged the dedicated $18.2 million in the 2021-22 Federal Budget for a “successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population to 30 June 2022”.

All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 16-years-of-age can now receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo Supplied.

Currently, there has been just 154 cases of the virus reported within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, with no deaths reported.

As of June 1, 70,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been ordered by ACCHS and as of June 4, 62,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have reportedly received at least one dose of the vaccine nationally.

By Rachael Knowles