Understanding COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Aboriginal communities is proving vital in the push to increase vaccination rates.
As of December 1, 57.5 per cent of the Aboriginal population in Western Australia had received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination and 39.4 per cent had received both doses. This is compared to 86.7 per cent of the general population across the state having had one COVID-19 jab and 76.4 per cent having also had their second.
Yamatji Noongar woman Sharon Wood-Kenney, who has been part of a team holding information sessions with Indigenous people in Perth about vaccinations, said many of the sessions were spent discussing why people did not want to get vaccinated.
“We run our sessions to myth-bust, to talk about what’s going on, to answer questions — I’m finding a lot of people not really sure about what the facts are about COVID,” she said.
Ms Wood-Kenney, pictured, said coming from a family that was affected by the Stolen Generation, she understood hesitancy about trusting the Government, but stressed the advice and information were coming from health experts.
With restrictions on the State border set to be removed when 90 per cent of West Australians are vaccinated, community transmission of the virus is inevitable, according to modelling done by the WA Health Department.
Research at the University of Western Australia has studied the possible transmission of the virus by looking at the movements and interactions made by people.
UWA mathematics Professor Michael Small said the remoteness of many of WA’s Aboriginal communities was not likely to be enough to protect them without other protective measures.
“In the Kimberley and the Pilbara, the fact that you have a lot of remote communities and, we presume, quite a bit of movement between them and between the regional centres actually creates much more mixing and a much stronger risk of transmission,” he said.
If the virus reaches the settlement of Pandanus Park, near Derby, community members may have to quickly get used to wearing face masks. Community chairperson Patricia Riley said the community had not had to wear masks, so most households would not have any.
“I’m very confused about this COVID, I haven’t come across one person in the Kimberley who has been a victim of COVID-19.”
Ms Riley told the National Indigenous Times she was notaware of any COVID-19 information sessions held in her community of about 80 people.
The closest she’s come to a COVID-19 vaccination is seeing cars from employment providers coming into the community to take people to have the jab because they “need to have it to keep a job”.
The State Government has begun a push to bring the vaccine directly to communities. Local leaders such as health staff, police and Aboriginal-led organisations will be yarning to community members and helping them to access the vaccine.
Premier Mark McGowan has warned movement restrictions may be imposed on regions not meeting WA’s 90 per cent vaccination target.
By Aleisha Orr