Vaccinations in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are rising, and experts say it’s due to an adequate rollout of Pfizer and the hard work of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs).

As of July 22, 124,096 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had at least one dose of any vaccine — around 21.4 per cent of those eligible. Over 50,000 people, or 8.7 per cent, have received a second dose.

The Pfizer vaccine is being rolled out to ACCHOs nationally and will be allocated between 15-20,000 doses per week with reallocations performed as needed.

Though the rollout has been slow to date, Dr Jason Agostino of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) said numbers are now rising more quickly as access to the Pfizer vaccine improves.

“Things have started on the backfoot because of the difficulties with the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Dr Agostino told NIT.

“Pfizer is preferred for people under the age of 60 and 90 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is under 60.”

“So, we needed to get Pfizer into our clinics, and that really wasn’t possible until a few weeks ago, when they said that we could store it for 31 days.”

Since the change in storage recommendation, Dr Agostino said ACCHOs have been able to get the doses they need, with around 10,000 people receiving the first dose of a vaccine last week.

“It’s sort of proving what we thought … get vaccines in community-controlled health services and primary health care places that people trust, and people will start getting the vaccine.”

According to the Department of Health, the National COVID-19 Vaccine 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.

Though Australia is not yet on track to have the entire population offered a vaccine by Christmas, Dr Agostino is confident that will change.

“I’m confident that if we keep getting a high number of doses into Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services at the numbers that we’ve seen for the past two weeks, then we will be on track to get everyone done by the end of the year and, hopefully, significantly earlier than that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he said.

Dr Agostino said it’s very important that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families.

“COVID causes more severe disease in people that have chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and we know that a high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have those conditions, and they also come on much earlier than they do in the non-Indigenous populations,” he said.

“For people with those conditions, COVID quite often can result in hospitalisation, intensive care admission and death.

“COVID spreads through households, particularly the Delta variant, and there are unfortunately, more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in crowded housing, where it’s more likely to spread through the whole household.”

All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16 years and over are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

By Sarah Smit