As vaccine rates for Indigenous Australians hover below 10 per cent, Australia’s top Aboriginal MPs are failing to lead the push for Indigenous vaccination.
COVID-19 vaccination numbers for Indigenous Australians are low; less than 10 per cent of the First Nations population have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt and Shadow Minister Linda Burney have promoted very little about the vaccine to mob.
Just 70,450 First Nations people having received at least one dose of the vaccine as of June 9 and though the number of COVID-19 cases in the Indigenous community remains low, Indigenous people are more vulnerable to the virus than the general population.
Higher rates of chronic illness and in some cases more crowded living conditions mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at greater risk of developing serious illness from a COVID-19 infection.
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has said the Federal Government — including Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt — must do more to fight the misinformation and hesitancy around the vaccine.
However, since Ms Burney and Minister Wyatt received their first doses of the vaccine on March 24, both MPs have formally encouraged Indigenous Australians to get vaccinated via social media or media release only a handful of times.
Despite vaccine eligibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recently opening up to all Indigenous people 16 years and older, both MPs have not made any posts through social media encouraging young mob to get vaccinated.
When asked about vaccine public health messaging at his March jab, Minister Wyatt promoted plans for vaccine messaging in language.
However, three months later, the Department of Health only hosts audio files of vaccine information translated into Kimberley Kriol and Western Arrarnta; just two of Australia’s numerous Indigenous languages still spoken in communities.
Neither Minister Wyatt nor Ms Burney have used their platforms to promote the written vaccination information tailored to Aboriginal people available from the Health Department.
Despite this, Ms Burney says the government needs to “play its part” in fighting misinformation about vaccination.
“I am concerned that there appears to be some vaccine hesitancy in a number of Aboriginal communities, and this presents a major challenge to the success of the vaccine rollout.”
“People [need] to be wary of misinformation and the Government needs to play its part in ensuring that accurate information about the need and availability of vaccines are communicated in a culturally appropriate and effective manner,” she said.
When questioned on Ms Burney’s own lack of promotion of vaccination for Indigenous people, a spokesperson for the Shadow Minister said her social media platform promoted a “wide range” of topics, pointing to Ms Burney’s March and June vaccinations which were publicised.
“Linda discusses a wide range of issues on her social media platforms, including the importance of the vaccine rollout,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Minister Wyatt said the Minister had been and would continue to raise the importance of vaccination.
“It has been raised by the Minister in almost every media engagement, regardless of the purpose of the interview, and [he] has also encouraged people to get their COVID-19 vaccine in Parliament on multiple occasions,” the spokesperson said.
“Just recently Minister Wyatt attended a local Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation in his electorate to celebrate a milestone in number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered.
“Social media and media releases are only two communication channels — we all need to be promoting the need for all Australians to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they can.”
Both MPs told NIT it is important for everyone to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
“I encourage everyone to do the right thing for your family, community, Country and Elders, and get vaccinated,” Ms Burney said.
Minister Wyatt said vaccination was a “safe and effective way of protecting yourself, your family, Elders and community”.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit health.gov.au.
By Sarah Smit