Vaccination Rates Among First Nations Peoples Lowest In The Country

Close the gap


Article heading image for Vaccination Rates Among First Nations Peoples Lowest In The Country

Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation

Indigenous health experts and community leaders across Australia are calling upon state and territory leaders to re-assess easing restrictions and opening borders until vaccine rates improve in First Nations peoples.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, along with prisoners and people living in rural and remote areas which have their roots in social and economic disadvantage, face multiple barriers, including access to health care.

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Purported by the Federal government to be a high priority in the rollout plan, vaccination rates among First Nations Australians are 20 per cent lower than the national average.

Concerned vulnerable groups will get left behind in the drive to open the country up, James Ward from the University of Queensland's Poche Centre for Indigenous Health is concerned communities are being left extremely vulnerable, due to lagging vaccine rates.

"While we still have very low vaccination rates in communities across Australia, we are going to be susceptible to the same level of outbreaks and the same level of consequences."

- Prof Ward

Grass roots health organisations are working around the clock to combat vaccine hesitancy in vulnerable and remote parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland, NSW, Western Australia and Victoria.

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Skepticism over Covid vaccines stemming from misunderstanding of information, mixed messaging, a lack of transparency, as well as circulating myths fuelled by social media online are all partly to blame.

“I hear [from people in remote communities] who say that ‘it’s a white man’s disease’ … or ‘I’m young I won’t get infected’,” says John Paterson, the chief executive of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (Amsant). 

“Particularly within those remote communities there are patches of hesitancy still. That’s due to a lack of information, from the feedback we’re getting.

“It’s often not that they don’t want [the vaccine], it’s about them wanting more information, more time to think about it,” Mr Paterson said.

With calls for vaccine rates among First Nations Australians to exceed national targets and instead reach 90-95 per cent coverage in those aged over 12, an initiative focusing on a fly-in fly-out model of sending vaccines and healthcare workers into regional and remote areas could be a part of the solution.

"I saw 500 people got vaccinated in Broome in Western Australia, one of the most remote areas in Australia," Professor Ward said.

"If places like that can do it, the rest of us can do it as well."

Professor Ward believes one of the biggest threats is unvaccinated young people catching and spreading Covid through their communities.

"Our elders are taking up vaccines at an incredible rate … but our group of most concern now are young people," he said.

The key to not leaving vulnerable groups behind requires an immediate, well-resourced, and concerted effort to lift vaccination rates and protect communities from infection.

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13 October 2021

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