Minister tries to map path to boost vaccine rates among Indigenous Australians

By Melissa Coade

Tuesday September 7, 2021

Federal Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt said access to digital technology was closely linked with economic growth and social connection
Federal Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt said access to digital technology was closely linked with economic growth and social connection. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

First Nations stakeholders met with minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt on Friday to identify ways to build community trust about being vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. 

Wyatt was joined by Pat Turner, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) CEO, to find more ways to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccines among Australia’s First Nations communities. 

The pair convened with pastors and remote medical professionals, who confirmed that vulnerable communities had heard and in some cases believed conspiracy theories and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Wyatt said this news caused him concern, even though vaccination rates among Australia’s Indigenous population were increasing.

“The meeting was about getting the advice of religious leaders on how to talk in a way that is respectful of people’s beliefs while keeping people safe from serious illness and death,” the minister said, adding that any successful public health campaign among First Nations people needed the support of faith and medical leaders in those communities.

“Our spiritual leaders will be crucial in ensuring positive messages succeed. To that end, uniting faith-based and medical messaging will be key to stamping out the dangerous rhetoric and boost vaccine uptake in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” he said. 

The group of community and faith leaders plan to meet again this week to develop and implement a messaging strategy about getting vaccinated for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) community. 

The federal government has also stated its commitment to lift rates of vaccination in Indigenous communities, targeting a list of at least 30 vulnerable regions that should have received their shots as priority groups in the Australian population

Turner said that it was important to consider what could practically be done to change community sentiment about the safety of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. She said 100% vaccination targets were important but impossible without tackling dangerous misinformation also.

“Social media might be the vehicle for anti-vax messaging in urban areas, but in regional and remote areas, word-of-mouth is also incredibly powerful, which is why positive messaging straight from our pastors will be key,” Turner said. 

“I’d like to thank Pastors Ray Minniecon, Willie Dumas, George Mann, Neville Naden, Tony Richards, Geoffrey Stokes and our remote doctors in committing to work together to stamp out this misinformation wherever possible.” 

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