Following the McGowan Government’s announcement of the February 5 plan to open Western Australia to the rest of the country, and the world, the race now appears to be on to get areas with low vaccination rates vaccinated.

Key regions of the Pilbara, Kimberley and Goldfields all sit well below an 80 per cent vaccination rate, and should they not reach that milestone by February 5, they will be subject to further restrictions that the rest of the state will not, including restricted travel and mask-wearing.

These potential measures would be removed once required vaccination levels are reached.

At the time of the announcement, the Indigenous vaccination rate in WA sat at 57 per cent.

In response to the low rate, the state government has committed to a range of initiatives to increase vaccination uptake in Indigenous communities.

These include significant media and communications activities across online platforms, as well targeted vaccination clinic days for improved access and attendance of First Nations People at clinics. These clinic days include Welcome to Country ceremonies and local leaders and high-profile Indigenous sportspeople in attendance.

Further distribution of culturally appropriate information and education about COVID-19 vaccinations have become a mainstay of the WA Government’s response.

This distribution has come through radio interviews, information sheets in language, both existing and newly created which has all been assisted by Schools, TAFE and Universities for their Indigenous students and staff in particular. Further, Noongar radio advertisements have been aired by the Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service, supported by WA health.

Health providers have also been distributing information and communicating the need for vaccinations in the community.

“We have a responsibility to protect and safeguard our Aboriginal people and communities, so they can remain safe and strong,” Deputy Premier and Minister for Health, Roger Cook said in November.

Despite the recent increase in the vaccination rates of Indigenous Western Australians, the lagging of First Nations communities behind the rest of the state presents a significant issue that requires more action in need of addressing an issue before the expected cases of COVID-19 enter the state upon its opening.

WA Premier Mark McGowan commented that “while information about Omicron is still preliminary, it is clear that vaccination – including the third dose – is absolutely crucial in combatting it”.

Should the community not acquire significant vaccinations by that point, larger issues caused by the virus will present challenges not yet faced by a state which has for the most part successfully avoided large scale outbreaks seen in other states and territories.

To find where you can get vaccinated and to book online please visit https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/COVID19vaccine

By Aaron Bloch