Scramble to lift Indigenous vaccination rates: Covid spreads in western NSW

Scramble to lift Indigenous vaccination rates: Covid spreads in western NSW

As Covid spreads across western NSW, Indigenous vaccination rates are being raised by Scramble.
As more cases are reported in the region, authorities are scrambling to increase vaccination rates for Indigenous people. This is a major challenge facing most Aboriginal communities in western New South Wales.

Eight cases were reported in Dubbo, two in Walgett and one in Walgett up to 8 pm last night. However, a total of 15 people have tested positive for Covid since then.

NSW Health refused to confirm the number of new cases that are Aboriginal, citing privacy concerns. Scott McLachlan, chief executive of the western NSW local hospital district, stated that “the majority” are Aboriginal people. This includes children.

Scramble to lift Indigenous vaccination rates as Covid spreads in western NSW
Scramble to lift Indigenous vaccination rates as Covid spreads in western NSW

Already, the NSW Delta epidemic has disproportionately affected Aboriginal people. According to NACCHO (the peak body for Aboriginal medical service), at least 60 per cent of current cases are Aboriginal.

NACCHO stated that less than 20% of Aboriginal people in Western NSW aged 16 or over had received any vaccine, and only 8% had been fully vaccinated.

According to Department of Health geographic vaccination statistics, 16.3% of all people have been fully vaccinated. This is a significant drop in the Indigenous vaccination rate.

The Walgett Pop-up Vaccination Clinic will be open from Friday, August 14th to Sunday, August 15th. Pfizer vaccines are available for anyone over 16 years old. Residents of Walgett will only be allowed to visit Friday, while those from the surrounding shire can get their shots over the weekend.

Despite the low vaccination rates in the region, anger is growing.

“The government took the better part of the previous year to resolve this issue. What is the current vaccination rate for Aboriginal people in the country? Linda Burney, shadow minister to Indigenous Australians, said.

Eight cases were reported in Dubbo (pictured) and two in Walgett up to 8 pm last night. However, 15 additional people have been confirmed positive for Covid since then. Photograph by Mardi Remond/The Guardian

NACCHO, speaking out more than a week ago, called for greater transparency in vaccine data. He expressed concern that communities would be exposed if they couldn’t see the gaps.

The federal health department holds vaccination figures, but Guardian Australia repeatedly asked for Aboriginal vaccination rates by age or location.

A health spokesperson would only quote top-line numbers: “As of 9 August 2021, 155,552 people who identify themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander had received at least one dose (26.8% eligible Aboriginal/ Torres Strait Islander populations aged 16 and older), and more than 75,894 (13%) had received a second dose.

Brad Hazzard, the NSW health minister, told media Friday that there was “a huge challenge in north-western NSW” but that the federal health minister Greg Hunt would oversee the vaccination rollout.

Hazzard stated that he wrote minister Hunt and… suggested that the state government would need them to do work they promised to do much sooner, which is to try to vaccinate as many people as possible and provide support.

Hunt stated that an additional 7,680 Pfizer dose was going to eight local government areas in NSW, including Walgett. It would be administered at general practitioners, commonwealth vaccination centres, and Aboriginal community-controlled health services.

Linda Burney, however, questioned how many doses of the medication would be given to Aboriginal people in western NSW. She also questioned where they were coming from. Linda Burney said it was like “robbing Peter for Paul”.

“It is possible that another outbreak could soon spread to another community. The consequences could be severe.” She said that if the doses are redirected to communities, the prime minister will be held responsible.

An older person in the West said they are worried because of many western towns’ close connections through extended family networks.

Yuwalaraay elder Frances Peters-Little said: “We’re all interconnected. For people who don’t know, the way Indigenous people function out there is that they rely on their extended family networks in our community and the next town down the line, from here to Dubbo.

She said that Dubbo hospital covers an area covering 246,000 km. This is comparable to Britain’s size.

According to Roy Butler, the NSW MP for this region, the outbreak’s source is a 27-year older man who was released on bail from Bathurst prison while his test results were still outstanding. He then travelled to Walgett on August 9th, according to the ABC.

Butler stated that families from the region tend to travel great distances to visit relatives or get essential services.

The NSW health department has not yet confirmed details about the case of the man and whether he was the source of the epidemic.

Walgett’s Dhariwaa elders group stated an urgent need for accommodation and support for those who are being held in prison or quarantined while they await test results.

Elders called for more nurses to assist the Aboriginal medical service and motel rooms for those who are homeless or have to live apart from their families.

They stated that the community requires wellbeing checks and delivery by trusted community members of essential items such as medication, food, and supplies.

The local Aboriginal land council is responsible for delivering essentials.

Walgett is like its neighbours, with one supermarket that depends on Dubbo for regular deliveries.

The Dhariwaa elders stated that they appeal to governments and other entities who can support them to stop the spread of the virus to Walgett and the surrounding areas.

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