First Nations leaders seek urgent meeting over low vaccination rates

By Jackson Graham

November 1, 2021

About half of all Indigenous Australians eligible for the vaccine have received two doses. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders are seeking an urgent meeting with the prime minister about low COVID-19 vaccination rates. 

About half of all Indigenous Australians eligible for the vaccine have received two doses, and a letter outlines 20 leaders who have the “gravest concerns” at the continuing low levels of protection. 

“Despite the efforts of the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector, we have unfortunately not seen the same levels of vaccination achieved in our communities as in the wider population,” the letter says.

It lists essential supplies such as food, grocery and pharmaceuticals and a lack of sufficient health infrastructure in remote communities as key risks.

“Compounding these risks are the lack of adequate capabilities to evacuate seriously ill COVID patients to locations where they can receive the care they require,” the letter says. 

Australian National University professor Peter Yu, one of the signatories, said a strategy between all governments, the Aboriginal Community Controlled health sector and other Indigenous experts was needed. 

“It is this more than anything else that will give Indigenous leaders and their communities some assurance,” Yu, the university’s First Nations vice president, said.

Lieutenant General John Frewen, leader of the national vaccine taskforce, said last week that uptake was low in some areas because of hesitancy, misinformation and complacency. 

“Supply [of vaccines] hasn’t been the concern,” Frewen said. “But really encouraging over the last fortnight, the first dose rates for Indigenous Australians have exceeded the national first dose rate.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner June Oscar said misinformation was undermining community health and lives.

“We need strong collective leadership from across all sectors, community and faith-based groups to support our communities to get access to the right information and to get vaccinated,” Oscar said. 

“Catastrophe is avoidable — it will require effective and targeted measures to close the gap in vaccination rates for First Nations Australians and a commitment by Australian governments to vaccine parity before we open up the country.” 

Oscar called for localised data on vaccine rates, and for state and federal governments to take responsibility for vaccination rates and provide investment in Aboriginal health services and community organisations.

“This includes actions like targeted campaigning, community meetings, information packs in our own languages, and a consideration of measures such as door-to-door vaccination campaigns like that currently being rolled out in Samoa,” Oscar said.


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

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