‘Diabolically low’: Grave concerns over vaccination rates among Indigenous

A leading figure in New South Wales' Indigenous community has expressed his grave fears about COVID-19 running rampant in the regions, saying that vaccine rates among some First Nations groups are "diabolically low".

Epidemiologist at the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council and Wakka Wakka and Wulli Wulli man Dr Peter Malouf said that there is too much of a gap in vaccine rates between Indigenous communities and non-indigenous, and that some communities were left behind in the rollout.

"My frustration really is the fact that Aboriginal voices have never been heard through this current health response," Dr Malouf said on Weekend Today.

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"And on top of that we've had mixed messages from the Commonwealth Government around the vaccination rollout…now we are seeing cases in Aboriginal communities in Western NSW, it's particularly alarming, since they have long standing socioeconomic inequalities that make them vulnerable.

"What we have seen over the past 18-months (is that) Aboriginal communities have navigated the first wave of the pandemic with relatively few cases. However since this year Aboriginal communities in NSW have experienced an alarming rise in the number of active COVID cases."

In NSW, there are currently over 500 active cases in Aboriginal communities, particularly in Western Sydney and Western NSW.

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In Wilcannia, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up more than 60 per cent of the population, there are 69 active cases, 62 of whom are Indigenous.

"What we want to see is that government recognising our Aboriginal community-controlled health services, to deliver on those upscale vaccination programs in the community," Dr Malouf said.

"Our services have a track record in delivering community-based immunisation programs such as influenza and pneumococcal vaccines, but why is it different for COVID?

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"Some of the vaccination rates in Aboriginal communities are diabolically low. What do you think will happen? If we don't upscale our vaccination rates, we know that the Delta variant is very infectious in communities. I just hate to imagine what that would look like for our communities."

Dr Malouf said earlier this month he had "successful discussions" with state Government about establishing an Aboriginal-led vaccination hub, but it's still "under development".

"We have also had word from NSW Government about developing an Aboriginal-specific hotline to help people to understand the vaccine rollout register their appointment, but also link up to those vital social support services that are needed," he said.

"So we look forward to the NSW Government operationalising those strategies moving forward."

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